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Thirty years after they gave us Music for the Masses, Depeche Mode is giving us music for the moment, taking on these troubled times on their new album, Spirit. But while their follow-up to 2013’s Delta Machine plays like a timely commentary on the state of the post-Trump world, it wasn’t conceived as such.
“It’s quite coincidental that the album has come out right now. I can’t claim that the songs were all written for Trump,” says Martin Gore, principal songwriter of the British electronic band. “It just seems like such perfect timing, because the world is in such a mess. But the majority of these songs were written in 2015-2016, so the world was in a mess then too. It’s just gotten a little worse.”
Before last year’s divisive U.S. presidential election, Gore felt compelled to tackle other political and social issues on Spirit. “We canceled a show in Kiev on the last tour because that was when things first started to kick off in the Ukraine [crisis],” he says. “And just after our tour finished, the Russians went into Crimea. And then there was the Syrian war going on — I can’t believe the world has just sat back and let that happen. In America, a constant battle was going on for rights: gay rights and transgender rights. There was the police violence against blacks. That was all happening during the writing period.”
Since both Gore and lead singer Dave Gahan live in the U.S., what was the band’s reaction after Donald Trump won the presidential election? “I think we were all just as shocked as all rational people,” Gore says. “On the day of the election I texted a friend of mine because I was a bit worried, and he said, ‘Don’t worry about it. Just look at the polls.’ So that night I sat watching it, and my jaw just kept dropping and dropping and dropping. I could not believe that so many people could vote for such an idiot. After everything that he did and said — things that we have tapes of him saying — I just don’t understand. It’s crazy.”
Adds keyboardist Andrew Fletcher: “I just hope he turns out better than we think. But we’re quite worried about the direction things are going at the moment.”
Depeche Mode was unexpectedly dragged into the political arena in February when alt-right leader Richard Spencer, who is a big fan, dubbed them “the official band of the Alt-Right.”
“We were quite shocked, I have to say,” says Fletcher. “We’re the opposite of that if anything.”
Gore was just as baffled: “He says he’s a big fan, but he obviously hasn’t completely listened to our lyrics. I just think he’s not all there. I think people always kind of know where we stand politically — everyone in the world except Richard Spencer.”
Gore says the new album’s title comes from the line “Our spirit has gone” in the haunting closer, “Fail.” “That [line] is one of the themes of the record,” he says. “And I’m hoping that by saying that and pointing that out, it helps people to think, and maybe we can get some kind of spirit back.”
As for the inspiration behind the politically charged single “Where’s the Revolution,” Gore says, “I think a lot of people are very frustrated and very angry, and I think they’ve just misplaced their anger. I think the system is broken and it needs to be fixed, but with the Brexit vote and by electing Trump, some of the decisions that are being made are not helping anyone.”
Meanwhile, “Going Backwards” reflects on the regression Gore has observed in the world. “Syria is like the Middle Ages at the moment,” he says. “And America is not quite in the Middle Ages yet, but it could easily be turned back 50 years very soon.”
Elsewhere, “The Worst Crime” deals with environmental issues. “For me, the worst crime is the fact that we are just destroying the world, destroying the planet,” says Gore. “We’ve known about it for a long time, and there are still so many people who deny it and will not accept what scientists tell us. It’s the worst crime because we’re not just destroying it for ourselves, we’re destroying it for our descendants. If we carry on the way we are, there will be no world.”
On Spirit, Depeche Mode worked with producer James Ford for the first time. “We liked a lot of James’s stuff he’d done with the Arctic Monkeys and also his work with Simian Mobile Disco, which is more electronic, so we thought he’d be perfect for us,” says Fletcher. “We wanted a quite minimalist sound in general, and he did that, and he was very fast.” Adds Gore: “We felt that it was time to make a change after making three albums with Ben Hillier, even though we loved every second of making those albums. We felt that we have to challenge ourselves and create a different atmosphere. I think [Ford] is a sound magician. He’s incredible.”
Now Depeche Mode — first-time nominees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last fall who didn’t make the final cut of 2017 inductees — are gearing up to launch their “Global Spirit” tour on May 5 in Stockholm. As for the set list, Fletcher says, “That’s always a problem, because our back catalog is so large. We can’t play for seven hours. I think Dave might be really exhausted. But we try to pick some of the best moments from throughout our career.”
Gore is philosophical about it: “Whatever we do, there’s always some of our fans who will complain. But I think we’ve got a good set list that will keep the majority of people happy.”