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A Matter of Life and Death 'Momento Mori' is Depeche Mode's best record in a very long time.

A Matter of Life and Death

'Momento Mori' is Depeche Mode's best record in a very long time.

by Jay Lewis, Reviews Editor
first published: March, 2023

approximate reading time: minutes

Surely a Depeche Mode album made in this century can't be a consistent joy, can it?

DEPECHE MODE
Momento Mori
(Venusnote Ltd)
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The relief, the blessed relief.

Surely a Depeche Mode album made in this century can't be a consistent joy can it? Surely that enchantingly melancholic first single and the pounding, disorientating follow-up were just flukes? Weren't they? Surely!

But the rumours are true, Depeche Mode have made their most rewarding long player since 'Ultra' (1997).

Whereas their last release ('Spirit', 2017), was furious but unfocused, 'Momento Mori' is far more direct, far more accessible. Teaser single 'Ghosts Again' led the way, a lean and deceptively simple song about, guess what, death delivered in that world-weary but soulful way that Dave Gahan knows too well. It's also one of a handful of co-writes between Martin Gore and Richard Butler of The Psychedelic Furs. I'd love to speculate on what his input has been, whatever that may be, Gore's writing has been re-invigorated. 


Elsewhere, the Kraftwerk indebted 'Wagging Tongue' wraps acidic observations around an old DM-style melody that makes you want to revisit their early 80s works. It's also that rare thing - a Gahan and Gore collaboration and, unlike their previous co-write (the messy 'You Move' on 'Spirit' ), it feels like writers working in partnership and not against one another.  The mocking 'People Are Good' (there is another subtle Kraftwerk homage in the mix too), is delightfully bitter in the way that only Depeche Mode can be. Even 'Caroline's Monkey', with its heavy-handed drug references is intriguingly weird. Then there's the 'you'll be my drug of choice' in Gahan's defeated, bruised and dramatic closer 'Speak to Me.'  A showstopper. 

Despite being written before the death of founder member Andy Fletcher last May there's a sense of grief running throughout this album,  maybe it's because these are thoughts of men turning sixty. As well as the title (which translates from the Latin 'remember that you will die' ) the aforementioned 'Ghosts Again' and the hymn-like 'Soul With Me' deal with mortality head-on.  Whereas Gore was, many years ago, risibly morbid ('I  don't want to start any blasphemous rumours/but I think that God's got a sick sense of humour...), the older and wiser version is far less hysterical when dealing with matters of life and death. 

After so many years of Depeche Mode sounding like an obligation of those taking part, a project where members are flown in from their far-flung parts of the world.  Momento Mori sounds like a band again, and whatever tragedies and trials may have led them here, it's something to celebrate. 

Jay Lewis
Reviews Editor

Jay Lewis is a Birmingham based poet. He's also a music, movie and arts obsessive. Jay's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.


about Jay Lewis »»

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