Friday, August 10, 2012

Slow Burn Of Dancing Into Death: Depeche Mode’s Playing The Angel

The Good: Good, dark mood, Interesting music
The Bad: Often obvious rhymes, Thematically monotonous, Unrelenting
The Basics: Described as "pain and suffering in various tempos," Playing The Angel is unrelentingly depressing.

Depeche Mode, I am told, is Goth rock, not Christian rock. I accept that, but my first real experience with the group, Playing The Angel, has strong religious overtones and it came across to me more as a Nine Inch Nails meets Creed than Ozzy Osborne meets Erasure. Though, to be fair to Depeche Mode, the first track on Playing The Angel, "A Pain That I'm Used To" does sound like it could have come from Erasure, on their heaviest day.

The back of the c.d. case for Playing The Angel bills the album as "pain and suffering in various tempos" and this is a perfect description for the album. The album is misery with a techno dance beat and industrial overtones. The titles prepare the listener to be mired in sadness: "A Pain That I'm Used To," "Suffer Well," "The Sinner In Me," etc.

And the music lives up to the titles. From the first klaxon of "A Pain That I'm Used To" to the ending chords of "The Darkest Star," this is a wholly depressing album. Out of twelve tracks, only "Nothing's Impossible" puts up the pretense of optimism. It contains a narrator that believes love at first sight is still worth believing in, then undercuts it with "Nothing's Impossible." This is the musical equivalent to, "Yeah, I'd date you if the world was ending. You never know, it could happen . . . ."

"Nothing's Impossible" is a beacon of possibility surrounded by "Damaged People" and the suffering of innocents in "Precious." There's not much to say or know about Playing The Angel outside it being a thoroughly depressing musical experience. It is ideal for listening to in dark rooms as one prepares to kill themself. It's dark.

And when it's not being dark, it's just silly. How can that be? Simply: the lyrics. Depeche Mode has some wonderfully dark lyrics on Playing The Angel. Take these lines from "Damaged People:" "We're damaged people / Praying for something / That doesn't come from deep inside us / Depraved souls / Trusting in the one thing / The one thing that this life has not denied us." Man, that's depressing. People who can only trust in being screwed over, "Yes bartender, I'll have another."

But then, consider the following lyrics from the opening of "The Sinner In Me:" "If I could just hide / The sinner inside / And keep him denied / How sweet life would be / If I could be free / From the sinner in me." The ide/ide/ide, be/free/me rhyme is an example of how Depeche Mode seems eager to sell out with the most predictable rhyme schemes possible. Indeed, possibly the only lyrical surprise on the album is that "John the Revelator" ("Put his in an elevator!") isn't rhymed with "violator" in that entire song.

By the second track, the rhymes are already tired and obvious, feeling like they are written by an angsty teen in a poetry workshop, not a group that has been around for over twenty years. And there is something to be said for diversity. Shakespearean tragedies have moments of comedy, not just to lighten the mood but for realism. It's difficult to listen to Playing The Angel too frequently because it is such a daunting album.

The music is big and dark and that's actually enjoyable. The problem is, there is nothing but big and deep. This leaves the listener feeling exhausted from the listening experience. This is a draining album, a work that presses down upon the listener without offering any genuine catharsis.

Who is likely to enjoy "Playing the Angel?" Moody teens. Those contemplating ending their life. Slowly. Goths. Who is unlikely to enjoy the album? Realists with some sense that the universe is not always trying to screw over everyone and oppress everyone.

The best track is the riot-inspiring "A Pain That I'm Used To." The weakest track is "Lilian" with its uber-obvious rhymes.

For similar, murky/dark music, be sure to check out my reviews of:
10,000 Days - Tool
Cex Cells - Blaque Audio
Two Suns (Deluxe) – Bat For Lashes


For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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