They were once a quartet, they are now a duo. Less than a year after the sudden passing of keyboardist and co-founder Andy “Fletch” Fletcher, Depeche Mode are back with ‘Memento Mori’, their 15th studio album.
The record had been in the works since the early days of the pandemic. Its deathly title and themes of mortality, obsession, paranoia were being sonically shaped by Gore & Gahan long before Fletcher died in May 2022. They made the decision to carry on and finish the project with the help of producers James Ford and Marta Salogni. In many ways, the LP feels inspired by the fragility of life one one hand and, on the other, a celebration of a life well-lived by their late friend and band member.
Table-setter and current single, ‘My Cosmos is Mine’ is a dystopian ear-worm with its jarring, industrial opening bars. ‘Wagging Tongue’ is classic Depeche synth-pop, juxtaposed against macabre Gahan vocals – “Watch another angel die, he sings”
The beautifully melancholic ‘Ghosts Again’ stands heads and shoulders above the rest of the album. That’s not to say that the rest of the songs are weak by any stretch; it’s just one of those magical pieces of Depeche Mode canon. The lyric, “We know we’ll be ghosts again”, now with added resonance, is haunting and comforting in equal measure. This was one of a number of tracks co-written by Richard Butler from the Psychedelic Furs. You just know that hearing Gahan sing it, perhaps glancing over his shoulder for “Fletch” on stage will be a divinely heart-shattering, almost religious experience for fans during the imminent world tour.
Although ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’ plods along a little, it finishes with one of ‘Memento Mori’s’ best lyrical moments – “You’ll be the laughter, I’ll be the punchline, of course.” The menacing ‘My Favourite Stranger’ and robotic ‘Never Let Me Go’ are a sublime clash of krautrock & post-punk. The dis-jointed ‘Caroline’s Monkey’ is a rare weak point amongst the twelve tracks.
‘Soul With Me’ is cinematic in places, peppered with a dreamy verse and a joyous, defiant chorus, as Gahan sings, “I’m ready for the final pages”. ‘Always You’ is reminiscent of the energy from their tumultuous 1993 long-player, ‘Songs of Faith & Devotion’. The anthemic ‘Before We Drown’ is another stand-out track whereas ‘Speak to Me’ is honest with an epic spaciousness that is completely appropriate to close the album.
Even though Gahan and Gore did not intend this record to be a dedication to Andy Fletcher, it is difficult not to feel that it is deeply connected to their loss. Ultimately, ‘Memento Mori’ is their finest piece of work since 2005’s ‘Playing the Angel’. Depeche Mode have shed the political undertones of its 2017 predecessor ‘Spirit’ and gone back to what they do best – inviting us to explore the black chasms of our hearts, culminating in the finality of death itself, but telling the musical story through a lens of gratitude of love.