Although often associated with the term of synthpop, Depeche Mode’s music has transcended beyond that, and indeed most generalizations. Elements of rock, blues, industrial, ambient, techno, and even bits of jazz and country have found their way into the band’s music over the past 42 years – qualities that make Depeche Mode stand apart from several of their peers that have had similar impact on modern music. Add to that a strong foundation of creative partnership among its members, and it’s very little wonder that the group has lasted as long as it has, even receiving an induction to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2020
Of course, that’s not to say Depeche Mode hasn’t endured a few pitfalls along the way. Founding member and principal songwriter Vince Clarke departed after the release of the band’s Speak & Spell debut album in 1981, going on to find success on his own terms with Yazoo and Erasure. Lead vocalist Dave Gahan struggled with a much publicized drug habit that very literally killed him in the ‘90s, although he was thankfully revived and has since enjoyed a healthier lifestyle. Still, the pressures of that situation added to the myriad circumstances of creative and personal differences that finally led to the departure of longtime member and producer Alan Wilder, who went on to focus on family life and his more experimental Recoil project. But perhaps, the most devastating event to befall Depeche Mode was the death of founding member Andy “Fletch” Fletcher in 2022 at the age of 60. His musical contributions may have been minimal, but his significance as the resident businessman and manager of the group cannot be understated.
Nevertheless, Depeche Mode endures as the two remaining founding members of Martin L. Gore and Dave Gahan have continued with the release of Memento Mori and accompanying tour. Writing for the album began in the midst of the pandemic, but Fletch’s passing had a clear effect on his bandmates and the material that appears on this album whose very title is a reminder that all things must die. The band’s fifteenth studio effort, ReGen Magazine now presents in lieu of a standard ReView this analysis of Memento Mori from the current staff, each writer offering their own perspectives on this momentous record in the influential band’s discography; the hope is to examine the different perceptions that can be attributed to a work with such a profound backstory, the various effects they can have, and inspire discussion among you, the audience.
If you’re a Depeche Mode novice, you’ll likely have quite a different experience from the more storied listeners, and in some respects, this is an asset rather than a liability. For a band that’s as aped as Depeche Mode, it’s refreshing to hear the originators do what they do best, and are so often imitated in. It’s chilled out and introspective without being so ambient as to be devoid of rhythm, and it’s also poppy but not so thoughtlessly and heavily produced as to reek of tasteless, late-night club beats. With “Don’t Say You Love Me” standing as this writer’s favorite track, Memento Mori is accessible and powerfully emotive, “Caroline’s Monkey” notwithstanding – a metaphor for addiction, but an awkward turn of phrase no matter the symbolism.
-Colin Andrew MacDougall (VexationsandtheVile)
Depeche Mode is a hard band to parse and not just compare against their more legendary output. Memento Mori certainly isn’t a bad album – few from Depeche Mode are – and it has some of the outfit’s best singles in decades… but it also has some really insufferable tracks like “Soul with Me” and “Caroline’s Monkey” that rank among the band’s worst. Overall, the album is fine. but the bad tracks unfortunately seem to be a bit more memorable than the good ones. Taking a buffet approach to the band’s more recent albums, you could likely put together a pretty fantastic Greatest Hits of the 2000s album or playlist, and several tracks from Memento Mori like “Ghosts Again,” “Always You,” and “Never Let Me Go” would feature heavily on it. But this album on its own, despite those highlights, feels like a bit of a chore to get through at times and just leaves a bad taste in the mouth, making it feel like a bitter pill wrapped around some great singles.
-Trubie Turner (Flexei)
This writer is an average fan of Depeche Mode; I know the hits and have taken a fancy to mid-career albums like Songs of Faith and Devotion and Ultra, though I’ve not followed the band much since then. From this viewpoint, Memento Mori is good, but took several listens before anything really caught. “My Cosmos is Mine” starts the album off with dark, trip-hop style electronics and is a great track that is marred by an odd, although short, middle section that sounds like it’s from a different song in a different key. “Ghost Again” is a solid track that managed to put the band back near the top of the Billboard charts for the first time in almost 14 years. It feels like it could have been written by New Order, but it sounds great with Depeche Mode performing it. “Wagging Tongue,” “Don’t Say You Love Me,” “My Favourite Stranger,” and “Speak to Me” are all catchy and memorable tracks that listeners can come back to time and again. But there are several forgettable tracks that one might just skip all together, like “Soul to Me” and “Caroline’s Monkey.” With the passing of Andy Fletcher, it’s difficult not to read into lyrics like “No final breath. No senseless death” and “Watch another angel die,” as well as the whole of “Ghosts Again.” It provides a sense of mourning from the band that can help longtime fans process the loss. Overall, Memento Mori does what it needed to do – it added some quality tracks to the Depeche Mode catalog, gave the band a bona fide hit, and addresses the loss of a bandmate, albeit indirectly.
-Douglas Leach (nowandforalltime)
Depeche Mode has been making music for over 40 years, and it would be no surprise to know that a band with that much mileage would hypothetically ‘die’ and quit making music sooner or later. However, it seems that the real-life death of Andy Fletcher actually provided a bit of new life for the remaining band members, as the suitably titled Memento Mori acts as both a goodbye and a tribute to Fletch and a suitable (yet occasionally underwhelming) potential end to the careers of Dave Gahan and Martin Gore as Depeche Mode. Memento Mori feels like a record that the band had to make; a way to honor their bandmate while shaking some lingering ideas out of their heads. The record flows that way as well, with a handful of tracks being a mixed bag, like “Soul With Me” and “Caroline’s Monkey,” and others like “My Cosmos Is Mine” and “Don’t Say You Love Me” easily slipping into the background. Much of the remainder of the record provides some standout vocal performances from Gahan and plenty of recognizable instrumentation and arrangements, often thematically wrapped in a shroud of death. It is nearly impossible to listen and avoid making direct comparisons to earlier material, as is always the case for bands with lengthy careers and discographies, but this record is best enjoyed for what it presents itself as in 2023: a true “Memento Mori,” an object serving as a reminder of the inevitable end, and thus a fond and acceptable farewell from what Depeche Mode was and will likely never be again.
-Ryan H. (DoktorR)
Memento Mori represents an unforeseen resurgence for Dave Gahan and Martin Gore. Despite, and even because of, Andy Fletcher’s absence, the album boasts a raw and unrestrained quality, challenging listeners in some instances and stirring anxious emotions in others. Nonetheless, it remains faithful to the familiar hooks that have defined the band since the ‘80s. “Before We Drown” exemplifies the formulaic Depeche Mode sound, infused with a fresh and maudlin perspective. Meanwhile, “People Are Good” feels like Depeche Mode covering a Blancmange reinterpretation of “People Are People.” All in all, the album may not meet fans’ expectations… or perhaps it does, depending on how one perceived the preceding Spirit, but it undoubtedly serves as a testament to the duo’s renewed formation and their well exercised but reknitted muscles.
-Stitch Mayo (StitchM)
Whereas Spirit was a record more focused on the world and society at large, Memento Mori is a more introspective effort, balancing the unavoidable themes of sorrow and loss with catharsis. While it never quite reaches the heights of the band’s post-millennium opus Playing the Angel, the album’s finest moments, such as the poignant single “Ghosts Again” and the throbbing, bass heavy “My Cosmos is Mine” are among the best Depeche Mode have written in ages. The middle of the record is a certain weak point, with the ponderous “Soul With Me” landing with a thud and the awkward, underwritten “Caroline’s Monkey” unable to justify the eccentric lyrics with anything sonically intriguing to support it. Though Memento Mori does reel under those frankly dire tracks, the album soon finds its footing again with the tightly programmed synthpop of “Before We Drown” and the pulsing, cynical “People Are Good,” leading up to a truly majestic finale in “Speak to Me,” a fitting conclusion for such a momentous record. Whether Gore and Gahan decide to continue Depeche Mode in the long term or not, Memento Mori is a very fine late career statement. Rest assured, gentlemen… Fletch would be proud.
-Ryan James (DreamXE)
Meditations on one’s mortality and continued relevance are nothing new in the scope of popular music, and given the tragic circumstances that Depeche Mode has recently endured, coupled with the fact that the band has managed to survive for over four decades, it feels almost unfair to judge Memento Mori on anything other than its own merits. Of course, comparisons to their past are as inevitable as the end, so let’s just have at it, because Memento Mori does possess some precious moments of brilliance that can certainly hold a candle to past glory. Among them is the bittersweet melancholy of “Don’t Say You Love Me,” with Gahan exhibiting the same passion he gave to classics like “Condemnation” and “Sister of Night,” the ending resonating with a palpable resignation. Similarly, the hip-swinging Brechtian strut of “People Are Good” offers the conceptual opposite to the classic “People Are People,” the words nihilistic and mocking of the confused optimism of youth, while the bubbling electronics of “Wagging Tongues” and “Before We Drown” hint at the band’s ultimately synthpop predilections, both exhibiting some excellent vocal harmonies from Gahan and Gore. The latter has his moment to shine on “Soul With Me,” which admittedly might have benefitted from a more minimalist instrumental approach; still, the song bears a swaying romantic ambience one might expect after most of the guests have left the party, the chorus offering that defiant yet futile grand exit to an empty room. And then there’s “Caroline’s Monkey,” which… well, nobody seems to really like this one, which is understandable given the awkward lyrics, although the strength of the instrumental makes it all the worse as a missed opportunity. Suffice to say, Memento Mori is by no means Depeche Mode’s best album, nor is it remotely close to being the band’s worst – and yet, somehow, it’s not just average. There’s a cyclical nature to Memento Mori as it begins with the thunderous distorted percussion of the darkly spacious “My Cosmos Is Mine,” and concludes similarly with that of “Speak to Me.” This isn’t to say that the album is Depeche Mode’s Dark Side of the Moon… but for an album whose central theme is the inevitability of death, there’s something to be said for it still showing that despite the years and the recent loss, life does still go on.
-Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)