Depeche Mode, “Spirit” (Columbia)
It’s not like Depeche Mode hasn’t been political before. Back when the British band was winning over teenage hearts in Reagan’s America and Thatcher’s England, their early ’80s pronouncements about “the grabbing hands grab all they can” and “people are people” crystallized rebellious thinking into well-crafted, irresistible pop songs.
But now, decades later, Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher are far more direct in their cultural objections for their new album in a way that’s often more lecturing than universally uplifting.
There are moments of greatness here, starting with the intense “So Much Love” — built on frustration and a musical backdrop that sounds like the beefier cousin of “A Question of Time” — and “Poison Heart,” where Gahan seemingly channels Amy Winehouse. The groovy “You Move,” which opens with a synth riff that feels reminiscent of Prince, shows how Depeche Mode is an unexpected influence on trap music, while the stark ballads “Cover Me” and “Eternal” have an icy beauty.
But global politics informed “Spirit” and the responses don’t seem fully formed. “Who’s making your decisions? You or your religion?” taunts Gahan in the first single, “Where’s the Revolution.” Sure, it’s a bit more tongue-in-cheek than the thunderous rhetoric would suggest. It still comes across as heavy-handed, though, as does “The Worst Crime.”
“Poorman” may be the biggest disappointment because it sounds so promising — a mix of industrial dance rhythms, rock guitar and gospel-inspired backing vocals that calls to mind the halcyon “Violator” days. Then Gahan starts singing, “Corporations get the breaks, keeping almost everything they make” followed by talk of trickle-down economics that feels so deflating. Come on, guys, why can’t we have a “Black Celebration” tonight?
GLENN GAMBOA, Newsday
Spoon, “Hot Thoughts” (Matador)
“Hot Thoughts” is the most dance-floor-directed of Spoon’s nine albums, a truth-in-titling 10-song exercise in getting frisky.
The Texas four-piece fronted by Britt Daniel has been a remarkably consistent outfit since finding its taut, itchy groove with “Girls Can Tell” in 2001. Daniel and drummer Jim Eno excel at efficiency. They’re masters of always-holding-something-back minimalism in four-minute songs with sharpened hooks that rarely overplay their hand. There’s no attempt at reinvention here, but a few notable tweaks.
Multi-instrumentalist Eric Harvey has left the band, and Flaming Lips and Mercury Rev associate Dave Fridmann has come aboard as co-producer, drawing out the band’s experimental side, particularly on the closing jazz instrumental “Us.” On “Tear It Down,” Spoon makes a reference to wall building that may or may not be making a political point with a non-specificity that is typical of a band whose songs satisfy because of how they sound, not what they mean.
DAN DELUCA, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Craig Finn, “We All Want the Same Things”
• James Blunt, “Afterlove”
• Trey Songz, “Tremaine the Album”
• Raekwon, “The Wild”
• The Jesus and Mary Chain, “Damage and Joy”