There are ghosts to be found in Depeche Mode’s fifteenth studio album—the least of which being Dave Gahan and Martin Gore’s fellow co-founder Andrew Fletcher, who passed away in 2022. The spirit world infiltrates the taut and icy electronicism of Memento Mori and lingers long, its sonic sparseness and plunging, programmable chill providing a welcome retreat from DM’s more conventional (even, ack, Coldplay-ish) forays into universality between 2013’s Delta Machine and 2017’s Spirit. Yet for every loss and specter found on Memento Mori, there is swagger and catharsis, too, tucked deep into its shadow.
The best of doomy Depeche Mode past would never allow for ease and convention despite how the likes of Violator and Black Celebration rocketed up the charts and caused a sort of moody, death-knell, teen-idol worship long before emo. In the ’80s and ’90s, Depeche Mode never came to you—you fell into them, their mean reds, their obsessive relationships, their occasions of industrial rhythm, their sad-eyed and paranoid lyrics’ (mostly Gore’s) desire for sex, God, hope, and solitude set against electro banks of increasingly grand and sumptuously melancholic, John-Barry-in-a-minor-key-like melodies.
The spirits of the faithful departed are within the electro-humming and tortuously textured likes of “Soul with Me” and the fragile “Ghosts Again”—the latter, as with several tracks on Memento Mori, featuring Depechesque words penned by Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs—and live as part of the scenery. The spaced-out dystopia of Gore’s “My Cosmos Is Mine” and its metallic-industrial flinch may not seem, at first, like a winning way of opening an album, yet it sets a mood of optimistic morbidity that makes Memento Mori the feel-blue album of the spring season.
Gore’s layered, bittersweet blues and doleful, downbeat chord changes are very much the emotionally melodic heart of Memento Mori, with the electro-perilous “My Favorite Stranger,” the cocksure and Kraftwerkian “Wagging Tongue,” and the tech-y R&B of “Caroline’s Monkey” each instant Depeche classics. As far as “Wagging Tongue” goes, Gahan-the-lyricist has found his way through a long-held catalog of obsessions to land at something soulful, cutting, and formidable, while his dimly lit “Speak to Me” is a resolute signoff filled with guts and grace. On top of that, Gahan’s bruised and baleful baritone has never sounded better, stronger, or more expressive.
If Memento Mori is meant as any kind of farewell to Depeche Mode—and I doubt it, as this chilling work sounds alive and vibrant despite its allusions to the passage of life and time—neither Dave Gahan nor Martin Gore are letting listeners off, or out, easily. Rest easy, Fletch. Your Depeche Mode is in warm hands.