Some albums are born out of personal necessity more so than out of artistic need. DEPECHE MODE’s fifteen studio album, “Memento Mori,” definitely feels more personal than any of their previous releases. That is because it comes after a pandemic and the death of co-founder and keyboardist Andy Fletcher on May 26th, 2022, and some tracks really reflect their grief. The album was released on March 24th, 2023, via Columbia Records and Mute Records, and is both an ode to life and a meditation on mortality, wrapped in intoxicating sounds.
Not as dark and ominous as an album boasting such somber artwork would be expected to sound, “Memento Mori” actually offers a great variety of moods and textures over the course of twelve tracks. Some of these songs do feel introspective and personal, while others are joyful and cathartic, thus balancing the album… and then, there are moments that just hit you like a ton of bricks have been dropped on your head. Even as a duo, Martin Gore and Dave Gahan managed to deliver an album that is as soulful as it is varied, with all the trademark elements of DEPECHE MODE on full display. This in itself says a lot, knowing the band’s past dynamics and their personal ups and downs through 4 decades of existence.
On the one hand, there are moments that are less serious, like the lighthearted playfulness of “Caroline’s Monkey” or the meta-storytelling of both orchestral-meets-electro “Don’t Say You Love Me” and pulsating electropop “My Favorite Stranger.” There’s also the synthwave beauty of not-so-optimistic “People Are Good,” whose chorus could easily act like a mantra in today’s society (“People are good / Keep fooling yourself”). Opening track “My Cosmos is Mine” feels cold and distant, with the vocals coming from somewhere far away on a backdrop of keys and electronic elements that accent the title’s space theme, making it their darkest track in decades. “Always You” is quite minimalistic and repetitive, but strangely compelling to listen to, most likely because of Gahan’s vocals.
On the other hand, in between these aforementioned tracks lies the true heart of the album. Single “Ghosts Again” is one of the best tracks DEPECHE MODE have penned in a long while, with orchestrations, piano, keys, and guitars creating a beautiful tapestry of sound, while Gahan sings about mortality in a beautiful and delicate manner. The beautifully ethereal “Soul with Me” gives Gore space enough to deliver an emotional and haunting vocal performance that should resonate with the listeners. The harmonized vocals of “Wagging Tongue” gives the track a richness of sound that goes hand-in-hand with its nice grooves, while such lyrics as “Everything seems hollow / When you watch another angel die” makes you re-evaluate life and the time that is given to us.
On the album’s second half, “Before We Drown” has a nice build-up to it, with some more harmonized vocals and interesting electronic sounds adding extra layers of sonic interest to an otherwise orchestral piece of music. Lyrically, it deals with the idea of moving forward despite difficulties, because the alternative is a metaphorical drowning as per the verses “First we stand up, then we fall down / We have to move forward, before we drown.” Melancholic closing track “Speak to Me” feels very fragile and delicate, as an emotional Gahan asks for guidance. However, there’s an intense crescendo of ambient sounds that would eventually take over and end the album on high-frequency static noises.
For an album whose main theme is mortality and loss, “Memento Mori” doesn’t really feel that heavy or bleak, as many of the lyrics are factual and even poetic at times, but never overly dramatic. The sonic palette is also very wide and varied, with the songs ranging from stripped down and orchestral to electronica-driven, all the way to having layers of melodies and harmonies. Likewise, the mood of the tracks differs, some feeling more soulful and sober, while others are downright buoyant and upbeat. These aspects speak volumes about a band that dealt with the passing of one of their members with such grace and decorum while delivering such a high-quality record.
Ultimately, this album is the yin and yang of life and death, which the title – “Memento Mori” (Latin for “remember you must die”) – sums up nicely.
Written by Andrea Crow
- My Cosmos is Mine
- Wagging Tongue
- Ghosts Again
- Don’t Say You Love Me
- My Favorite Stranger
- Soul with Me
- Caroline’s Monkey
- Before We Drown
- People Are Good
- Always You
- Never Let Me Go
- Speak to Me
Martin L. Gore