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Mini CD Review: Depeche Mode, Exciter

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After two post-Alan Wilder albums, it’s clear that Depeche Mode had suffered at the loss of its sonic architect with 2001’s Exciter. Wilder, who left Depeche Mode in 1995 to focus on his successful solo effort, Recoil, had been the man responsible for Depeche Mode’s sonic tapestry. True, Martin Gore wrote the music, but it was Alan who took that music and turned it into Depeche Mode’s signature sound. Violator is perhaps one of his greatest efforts, closely followed by Songs of Faith and Devotion.

Alan left, rightly so, for not getting the credit he deserved in Depeche Mode, and oh how that’s evident with the miserable Exciter. This is coming from a long-time DM fan, stretching back to the mid 1980s, so it was very disappointing to me to give Exciter such a low rating.

The problem with Exciter, for me, is a lack of a coherent thread, a vital center, a musical tapestry that takes the listener from one song to the next. Ultra, DM’s first album without Wilder, is at least a better example of an album that flows well, musically as well as emotionally.

Exciter, on the other hand, seems to be a collection of material that wasn’t quite fleshed out. The songs flow from one to the other without really leaving an impact on the listener. The songs, in fact, sound like outtakes from previous DM albums: “Dream On” is a great example of that, as the guitar rifts even sound like the same rifts used on Violator, in the musical interlude “Crucified” that plays right before “Policy of Truth.” “Breathe” sounds like a Martin Gore solo effort.

On a positive note, David Gahan’s singing is perhaps the best its been in the band’s 20 years. His experiences in drug addiction seem to have added an emotional urgency that was not present in previous albums. Martin Gore’s lyrics cover the same usual territory: religion, relationships, and some doom and gloom. Ultimately, nothing new here. He did a better job, lyrically, on Ultra.

If you can find the albums, the German band Wolfsheim is perhaps a better example of how Depeche Mode could have evolved. Take a listen to “Once in a Lifetime” from Specators and see if you do not agree.

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