Memento Mori

A lifelong Depeche Mode fan reviews Memento Mori

And then there were two.

I’m both pleasantly surprised and deeply grateful that my all-time favorite band graced us with their 15th studio album. I don’t expect another, but I’d love to be proven wrong!

Memento Mori may not be revolutionary, but it serves as a fitting homage to their previous work and a culmination of their post-Alan sound. It’s as if the production team listed all the key ingredients of the best Depeche Mode albums for one last trip down memory lane, peppered with Easter eggs and fan service.

I imagine that after they nailed down the sonic recipe, they wrote down the song titles of their biggest hits on a piece of paper, cut out the individual words, threw them in a bag, and pulled them out to assemble “new” song titles like “People Are Good” and “Never Let Me Go,” hoping some of that mojo might rub off.

The result is familiar, comfortable, and purposely flawed like torn denim. It sounds like Depeche Mode and no one else.

You have to give them credit. They’re not resting on their laurels. While their contemporaries are playing county fairs and 80s nostalgia cruises, they’re still relevant. In their 60s!

I’m going to go out on a limb and say Memento Mori steals the title of best-produced DM album from Ultra, though you may disagree with me on both counts. The songs are simple but the sound is anything but. Every synth lead has multiple layers spread across the soundstage. Even the simplest hi-hat sample has depth and dimension.

The vocal performance and production are flawless. Starting with Exciter, I’ve heard obvious pitch correction blunders on every record until now. Martin’s vibrato is comfortably and tastefully restrained and Dave’s voice is at max richness throughout.

Dave’s lyrics may still lack vivid imagery, but for the first time, they’re melodically and harmonically on par with the rest of the album.

Best of all, the blues guitar I complained about in my Delta Machine review, and the politics of Spirit, are blissfully absent.

So why is Memento Mori such a chore to listen to?

Don’t get me wrong! I’ve come to enjoy it and consider it their best since Playing the Angel. While I’ve listened through it at least a dozen times, I never find myself hungering for another playthrough.

I’ve given it a lot of thought, and I think it comes down to the vocal melodies. They tend to follow a stepwise motion and often linger on the root and minor 3rd of the scale. Rhythmically they’re composed of mostly eighth and quarter notes.

To put it simply, the vocal melodies lack hooks.

If their aim was to craft a set of songs that they could sing on tour well into their 70s, they succeeded. The notes sit comfortably in the middle of their vocal ranges and rarely extend beyond an octave.

When I think back to the Depeche Mode melodies that captivated me the most over the years, they usually include leaps, syncopated rhythms, or both.

Case in point, “you know how hard it is for me” from “Shake the Disease,” with its sense of slowing down into that precarious leap upwards. Or the magnificent leapfrogging melody of “Question of Lust.” Or while we’re on “question” songs, the zigzagging offbeat “it won’t be long before you’ll do exactly what they want you to” of “Question of Time.”

It’s not just about vocal acrobatics though! The hook can be just a note or two, like the syncopated “it’s a competitive world” of “Everything Counts,” or the rapid-fire sixteenth notes “all I ever wanted, all I ever needed” of “Enjoy the Silence.”

The common denominator is surprise, which is in short supply on Memento Mori. It’s all so pleasantly predictable.

One exception is the prechorus of “Ghosts Again,” with its behind-the-beat syncopation that demands multiple listens to sing along confidently with. Perhaps that’s why it was chosen as the lead single!

Now that I’ve set forward a thesis, I’d like to talk a little about each of the tracks in sequence.

I worked out the chords, time signatures, and BPMs in case you’d like to record a cover version or sing along at home. I did my best to present them in the simplest way possible, which isn’t entirely consistent from song to song. If you have any questions, throw them at me in the comments below!

My Cosmos is Mine

Key of B minor, 3/4 time signature, 82.5 BPM

Chords: Bm (yeah, just the one)
Bridge: G# G# Gm Cø7/F# Dø7/F A# Gm Cø7/F# F Fm Eø Eø/A#

At first, this one struck me as an odd opener and an even odder single, but over time the rationale became clear.

The band opens the album by quite literally declaring ownership of their sonic universe, the Seinfeldian masters of their domain. Sure, it sounds like a funeral dirge, but it’s a production tour de force and a skilled bit of world-building.

The blues guitar is gone, but the essence of blues lives on in their chord progressions and melodies. The melodic contour here is evocative of Gershwin’s “It Ain’t Necessarily So” from Porgy and Bess, which contains one of my all-time favorite rhymes: “He made his home in / Dat fish’s abdomen.”

As for the single release, my guess is that it was intended as an album teaser more than a dedicated single.

The bridge chords are the only ones on the album I’m not 100% confident in, because there isn’t much harmonic information there to work with.

Wagging Tongue

Key of Bb minor, 4/4 time signature, 100 BPM

Verse: Ebm Ab Bbm
Chorus: Gb Ab Db7
Break: Bb Eb Bb Ab

On paper, this one ticks all the boxes. We’ve got our usual cast of saints and sinners, themes of defiance and redemption, and the somewhat shocking central image of an angel’s death.

What it all means is anyone’s guess, but when the bass drops in the second verse, I’m here for it. The blues/gospel influence is present lyrically and also harmonically, most notably in the chorus with its dominant 7th chord. The synth lead in the instrumental break at 1:54 reminds me of another DM track that I can’t quite put my finger on.

It’s cool to see Dave and Martin writing a song together, but I get the sense that we’re left with only what both found acceptable. Kind of like the last Tears for Fears record!

Ghosts Again

Key of A major, 4/4 time signature, 115 BPM

Chords: D | E | C#m | F#m E

I was so taken in by this one that I recorded my own cover version within 12 hours of the original going live on YouTube.

“Ghosts Again” already feels like a classic. So much has already been said that I don’t have much to add beyond two short points.

Sonically this owes a lot to Playing the Angel and “Precious” in particular, minus a touch of grit.

Harmonically the track never resolves. We never actually land on an A major chord. A metaphor for immortality?

Don’t Say You Love Me

Key of D minor, 6/8 time signature, 90 BPM

Verse: Dm C/D Bø/D C/D
Chorus: Gm A
Bridge: [Gm Dm] x3, Gm Dm A

This one uses a classic songwriting technique called the laundry list.

For example, Alanis Morrisette’s “Ironic.”

It’s like rain on your wedding day
It’s a free ride when you’ve already paid
It’s the good advice that you just didn’t take

The formula is simple: “It’s like x, it’s like y, it’s like z.” Now you just fill in the items on the list Mad Libs style and voila, you’re a songwriter!

Another example is Sting’s “If I Ever Lose My Faith in You” which follows this pattern: “You could say I lost my x, you could say I lost my y, you could say I lost my z.”

Or more recently, Death Cab for Cutie’s “I’ll Never Give Up On You” which IMHO is a blatant ripoff of the aforementioned Sting song.

Here we’ve got: “You’ll be the x, I’ll be the y.” The structure works well to deliver a chilling tale of a dysfunctional and emotionally manipulative relationship. The lyrics are rich with vivid imagery and culminate in a zinger of a last line.

My Favourite Stranger

Key of Eb minor, 4/4 time signature, 120 BPM

Chords: Ebm Gbm Bbm

I don’t know if this one is actually about Dissociative Identity Disorder, but I think of it as “the Moon Knight song.”

The narrator has a destructive alter ego that is slowly taking over his life. The sound design is dark and ominous, creating a sense of unease with cinematic strings and octave-leaping squeaks.

I’m confused as to why the alter ego would be the narrator’s favorite stranger when he obviously disapproves, but I’m probably just being overanalytical.

In case it wasn’t obvious, I haven’t scoured the internet for interviews or message board discussions about the intended meanings of the songs. I have no special insight or authority.

This song contains one of the Easter eggs I mentioned earlier, when Martin echoes the word “hands” on a high Ab at 3:10. Again I can’t quite pin it down, but I’m pretty sure we heard it on Violator.

Soul With Me

Key of A minor, 4/4 time signature, 74 BPM

Intro/Outro: C Dm Eb F7 Gm Ab
Verse: Am D Dm7 Bbm Ab Fm C (Em-F-G)
Chorus: F Em A
Break: F7 Gm Ab

When I had the idea to transcribe the chords for the whole album, I worried this song might stop me dead in my tracks. I was pleasantly surprised to find that it’s actually quite straightforward and elegant!

Like with previous Martin ballads such as “Home” and “One Caress,” the chords shift dramatically to accommodate a repeated melodic contour.

Lyrically it’s an outright celebration of death, with the chords reflecting each step of the journey. We start on a minor chord representing “the world’s disasters” and weave our way through different forms to ultimately arrive at the heavenly relative major.

I’d appreciate the song more if the chorus wasn’t yanked from a hymnal, but I get what he’s going for. This is one of the best songs on the album and It’s a shame that Martin didn’t get a second feature!

Caroline’s Monkey

Key of C minor, 4/4 time signature, 112 BPM

Verse: Cm Fm Cm
Chorus: Cm Gm Cm Gm Ab Gm Ab Gm Fm Eb+
Break: Cm
Last Chord: Db7

This one is a head-scratcher. Why are the lyrics in the third person? Why a female? We never get any clues as to what the narrator’s relationship is with the subject.

Since this is co-written by Psychedelic Furs frontman Richard Butler, I wonder if the song refers to the same Caroline who was so “Pretty in Pink” back in 1986. Forty years later, she’s a drug addict!

The phrase “forgiveness and everything” in the second verse sounds a lot like The Cure’s “with babies and everything” from “Disintegration“ (the song, not the album).

“There’s no satisfaction on Caroline’s train” strikes me as a lazy rhyme. I think “brain” makes more sense in the context of addiction.

Before We Drown

Key of G, 4/4 time signature, 90 BPM

Verse/Break: G Gm Dm C
Chorus: Bb Dm Fm Cm

After my first listen through the album, this was my favorite song and the one I chose to add to my Vocal Synthwave Retrowave playlist on Spotify.

I didn’t immediately recognize it as one of Dave’s, but over time as I familiarized myself with the colorless lyrics, there was no mistaking it.

This has to be the weakest verse on the record:

I feel so naked, standing on the shore, are you sure?
Nothing’s out there, nothing else no more, no more

“Are you sure” is completely superfluous and “nothing else no more, no more” is doubly redundant.

Even the central image of drowning makes no sense in context. “First we stand up, then we fall down” establishes that we’re standing on the ground, or possibly the shore based on the verse I just cited.

Then “we have to move forward before we drown”? Presumably if you move forward from the shore, you will drown!

Fortunately, it works better in context than on paper thanks to Dave’s excellent vocal delivery. The stellar production features some cool Martin vocal echoes that we’ve heard somewhere before.

People Are Good

Key of G minor, 4/4 time signature, 117 BPM

Verse: Gm
Chorus: Eb Cm
Bridge: F F#ø Gm F Eø Ebm

This one goes down as my actual favorite. Melodically it doesn’t have much going for it, alternating between the root and minor 3rd of the scale, but the lyrics more than make up for it.

Have you heard the acronym API? It stands for Assume Positive Intent, and it’s a useful rule-of-thumb when dealing with people online. Text and emojis can be ambiguous, so the idea is to give others the benefit of the doubt and interpret their words in the most favorable way possible.

My wife does this when I’m driving, much to my chagrin. I’ll point out some idiot who’s going 20 miles per hour in a 50 zone, and she’ll say “he’s probably just lost.” Okay, sure. And maybe he’s an idiot!

I make a habit of assuming positive intent while suspecting I’m being mocked, so I very much relate to this song.

Always You

Key of Eb minor, 4/4 time signature, 80 BPM

Verse/Break: Ebm Cb Ebm Abm
Chorus: Bbm Bb Ebm/Bb Abm

You’re probably familiar with the peak-end rule, which suggests that for any given experience, we’re prone to remember the most intense moments and the ending.

It applies to album sequencing, which is why it’s important to end with a strong track. Of course, you want to start with your best stuff. That leaves the area near the end for the weakest material.

I don’t want to be overly negative, so I’ll just say that I think the album is well-sequenced. I don’t consider this song to be a laundry list, but once you strip away all the repetition, there aren’t many words left.

One thing’s for sure: the second verse should’ve been cut in half. It really bogs down the momentum and the track is already plenty long at 4:18.

Never Let Me Go

Key of G Minor, 4/4 time signature, 136 BPM

Chords: Dm Bb Gm Ebmaj7
Bridge: Gm F Eb Bb
Break: Gm

This one could’ve been called “A Question of Time II.” It’s got a similar style and sound, with the exception of the guitars that remind me of The Cure’s Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me.

I rank this one above “Always You,” but there’s nothing particularly distinctive about it. It’s what ChatGPT might come up with when asked to write a Depeche Mode song.

Actually, why theorize? Let me ask, using the same title…

My apologies to Martin! ChatGPT doesn’t hold a candle to it. Still, it came up with a satisfying chorus:

Never let me go, hold me close
In this world of sorrow and loss
As the shadows start to grow
Whisper softly, never let me go

I like how it both starts and ends with the title. Go ChatGPT!

Speak To Me

Key of C Minor, 4/4 time signature, 82 BPM

Chords: [Cm Eb Ab Fm] x2, Cm | C | Fm | Abm | Eb | Cb Db | Eb
Last Chord: Ebm

We close with a Dave song, which means colorless lyrics (should’ve used ChatGPT). The only visual image is “lying on the bathroom floor.” I assume it’s a plea to God amidst the throes of addiction, but maybe I’m reading too much into Dave’s personal history.

The song itself is just three verses, but the production! The arrangement! Or should I say, orchestration. It’s truly magnificent. Like many Depeche Mode closers, this one explores new sonic territory. I’m not sure who we have to thank for this auditory delight, but they’ve outdone themselves.

With the final words “I’m here now, I’m found,” we are redeemed. Not a bad place to bring Depeche Mode’s legacy to a close.

Did you really just read that whole thing? You must be a serious Depeche Mode fan.

Some fans seem to believe that the band can do no wrong. If you’re one of them and I’ve managed to offend you, please Assume Positive Intent. I’m just one flawed and biased individual calling it as I see it.

How do you see it? Share your thoughts on Memento Mori in the comments below!

What’s your favorite song? Your least favorite? When is Alan coming back? 🥹

I’d be remiss not to mention that I’m a musician myself, putting the finishing touches on my 13th album. If you’re curious, you can hear my latest and greatest on Spotify here.

I’ve also got an entire tribute album to Depeche Mode that was recently updated with three new songs. Ever heard of “Ponytail Girl”?

Last but not least, every month I share ten of my favorite new 80s-influenced synth-driven pop tracks on my Synthwave Top 10 podcast. It’s a safe bet that we have similar tastes!

Thanks for reading! 🖤

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  1. What a stellar review, Brian! New Musical Express should have made you the anchor a long time ago. You are so diligent, and constructively menacing, without totally ignoring the romance of reality. Your concept of API is much more delightful than mine-an application programming interface. We’ll die in the sounds DM have left in our hearts and minds, wagging our tongues, when appropriate.

      1. Obviously, I didn’t emphasize enough to make it cléar that “Wagging Tongue” has become my favorite track on the album.
        Most likely, because I overplayed “Ghosts Again”, and every version of it on YouTube. Nevertheless, “Wagging Tongue” reflects the most successful effort of Dave and Martin, in my opinion, of singing together! Almost all the way through the end, and in such tempting harmony:

        I won’t be persuaded
        Kiss your doubts goodbye
        Everything seems hollow
        When you watch another angel die

        I’d change “die” to “fly”, but it would probably change the demeanor of the track, quite unjustly. Utterly thrilled by reading other people comments on various songs by DM, especially comparisons.”Wagging tongue” reminds me of “It’s no good” by its flamboyant approach, Paul Humphreys synths, Vince Clark’s attitude, but most importantly, the defiant message of it:

        “ I won’t be offended
        If I’m left across the great divide”

        I’m so ready for the “Counterfeit 3”, and another “Evening with Martin Gore” or Brian Hazard in Los Angeles.

        P.S. I enjoyed 96 degrees in Palm Springs earlier today with Timéo of Marseille, synchronizing our thoughts on how much loved and appreciated you are all over the world!♥️

        1. I thought your wagging tongue reference was just a clever play on words!

          IMHO changing “die” to “fly” would completely emasculate the song. Love the comparisons though!

          As much as I love the Counterfeit albums, I’d love an album of Martin originals 10x more. I’ll even accept Martin + Richard Butler originals. ;)

          Thanks for the intercontinental well-wishes!

  2. Great review. I’m a huge Depeche Mode fan (which means I hate some stuff, that’s a true fan). The problem you and I have is that they’re not allowed to record anything subpar and they sometimes do…okay more than sometimes lately. Being a huge fan makes it difficult to be pleased. I’m going to see them on Wednesday and as always happens with my favourites, I wish I could control the set list

    My favourite is “Soul With Me”. It’s lovely and I’m a big fan of Martin. I think Dave’s great but let Martin lead. I loved your comment about Tears For Fears and I wish Roland had all the control. He’s the reason for their greatness, give him the reins. I cringe listening to interviews where Dave or Curt are answering on the songs they didn’t write. Those who are not familiar with them would think they wrote them. They are also always very philosophical but then when Roland or Martin talk about them, they downplay the songs and we often see that they’re pretty straightforward and that perhaps we’ve read too much into it all.

    I’m pleased with the album although like you, wish they would book me for a test listening before committing to releasing it

    1. You’re absolutely right – they should have consulted us first!

      But seriously, wouldn’t that be great? I wonder if they wrote a bunch of extra songs and focus grouped them down to the dozen we ended up with. Perhaps they culled potential favorites like “Shake the Truth” and “Behind the Silence.”

      I bet you’ll feel much more connected to the album after hearing them live. Enjoy!

  3. Oh Alan, Alan, Alan…wouldst that he was given a pass at the album! How more mighty couldst it have been? Actually, I thought of a way they could have collaborated via email, like Martin did with Vince on VCMG. Anyway, great review! I agree with most of it, except for the production, in particular the beats. I find them far too weak. Maybe I’ve just got a thing for heavy beats! There are some great synth sounds, but a certain “sameness fatique” crept in by the 10th song. I love how you summed up what’s missing: no melodic hooks! Exactly! There’s no distinctive melodies that stand out, to really catch your ear. It’s good, but in an amorphus kind of way. And thanks for transcribing the chords. I’m not as technical a musician, so I always admire someone who knows their stuff. (Actually, I have sort of jazz piano piece I recorded a long time ago, and can’t remember how to play it! I wonder if you could figure it out? How much might you charge?) Still, if this is the last album, it’s a fitting way to go. (But where are the 12″ singles?!) I love “My Favourite Stranger.” It gets the Creepiest and Darkest Song Award. Dave’s songs are as amateurish as ever. As I said in my review, the lyrics are like what a high-schooler might write. Some other fall back, lazy phrases he’s used in the past: “I want” and “it’s true.” “Speak to Me” is good, but mostly for the music. Seeing it live (IN YO FACE!) it created a weird, somber, funeral-like vibe, with very much an other-worldly feeling. My favorite song might be “Soul With Me.” I think it has the hardest vocal. I wish Martin had sung another song as well. The good news is there’s four more songs they haven’t released yet, so maybe we’ll get another Martin solo. My least favorite is “Caroline’s Monkey” only because it has the most unrealized potential. This song screams for a strong, bouncy beat and bass line, and instead it kind of sits there. Remix, please!
    To me, the post-Alan albums are their own era. I would rank them from best to worse:
    Sounds of the Universe (love the variety, synth sounds, and vocal harmonies, like DM of old.)
    Exciter (the last album with real variety in the sounds and textures.)
    Momento Moir
    Delta Machine (not great, but there are some bright spots. Rolling Stone gave it 5 stars. Is that a good or a bad thing?)
    Playing the Angel (the first time I was truly disappointed by a DM album. The three B-sides were better than anything on the album.)
    Spirit (in a word, boring!)

    1. Great stuff Russell!

      I hear you on the beats. I wasn’t commenting on the programming as much as the mixing, with lots of short delays and reverbs to provide space and definition for even the most pedestrian samples.

      Obviously I’m 100% with you on Dave’s songs. It’s just the lyrics, really. The chord progressions have matured over the years, and “Speak to Me” has a great one.

      Playing the Angel has sentimental value to me, which may be why I’d put it much closer to the top. My son used to sing along to and request “A Pain That I’m Used To.” Now he doesn’t even recognize it! But we’re in agreement on the two extremes in your ranking.

      I’m probably too expensive to hire for a simple transcription, and depending on how jazzy it is, I might not be the best choice for the job anyway. If we’re talking b13#9 chords, I haven’t messed with those since college.

  4. Dear Brian!

    First of all, thank you for the great review of the album. As for the analytical, I can only take my hat off, since my musical skills are nowhere near as pronounced as yours, (which is why I also regularly think at your new songs: “Damn it, how does he do that? He’s got me hooked again after 10 seconds” :-) )

    Apart from that, I think we are connected by the lifelong Depeche-Mode fandom. The guys from Basildon were the reason why I went to my first concert at the age of 14 and bought my first synthesizer second-hand one day later (thanks to my insightful mother). It was a Yamaha CS-5 at the time (just for the record).

    Now I’m 54 years old and still listen to DM very very much and also still try to feel the youthful enthusiasm when a new album comes out. With other artists I can still do that, with Depeche Mode unfortunately not one hundred percent anymore. It’s clear that I will always listen to them, most likely until the end of my life (and if I don’t go deaf), and they will also always be a fixed, formative part of my life, because they have influenced me in so many ways, especially in the choice of which musical direction I will take one day.

    Still, there are several elements that I find lacking again in this album. As you rightly write: The production and sound design is master class, there is nothing more to say about it. But yes: THERE ARE THE HOOKS AND TURNS MISSING IN THE MELODY LINES, damn it.

    This makes me miss the magic of the melodies and the “magic” which is why I found DM so incredibly appealing, touching and profound.

    For me it has a simple and possibly too simple reason: Alan Wilder. Since his departure, the translator of Martin’s brilliant songwriting to the fan world has been missing. For me, Alan was someone who shaped Martin’s ideas, made the diamond shine, and with sometimes subtle techniques in the mix and minimal additions to the arrangements, ensured that the songs became such timeless masterpieces.

    Although Ultra was already realized without him, (and I would like to call this album grandiose), everything after that was no longer “my Depeche Mode”. Something was missing. Something essential and as already mentioned, this is for me the addition Alan Wilder. With him, Depeche Mode were complete. Without him they are not. (This is only my humble opinion).

    The duo of Martin and Dave certainly works great, even when it comes to collaborative songwriting, but as much as I want it to, that final “kick” that makes me go down on my knees and say “Finally they’re back” is missing.

    Of course, that may be due to my and/or their age and maybe I need to bury that dream too, but I’m sure they still could if they wanted to … and that one person was back.

    Nevertheless, I see the new album also very very positive. For many years it comes closest to “my” Depeche Mode vibes again and that alone makes the album something special for me again.

    P.S.: My favorites: “Ghosts again” and “Before we drown”.

    1. Thanks Dirk!

      It sounds like we share similar histories. My first concert was actually Madonna for the Like a Virgin tour. Beastie Boys opened when they were pretty much unknown, and I was genuinely shocked at their language. Coincidentally the very famous drummer for Madonna (and more notably, Michael Jackson), Jonathan Moffett, ended up drumming on my fifth album.

      Oops, I got sidetracked there. Soon after Madonna I saw Depeche Mode at Irvine Meadows on the Black Celebration tour. I think I’ve got the sequence of events right, anyway.

      While I would heartily rejoice at Alan’s participation in any way, shape, or form, I suspect that no one could possibly live up to the expectations we’ve placed on him. This is an unpopular opinion, but I was really disappointed in the production of SOFAD, when the songs were at their peak. The live drums killed it for me. In that respect, Ultra was a huge improvement.

      1. Same here. I thought the production on SOFAD did not equal that of Violator. A bit too NIN Pretty Hate Machine for me, and it’s probably my least listened to DM album of the Alan era.

        1. I’m a little scared to say it here, but I much prefer PHM’s production. If we could just swap out the live drums for samples, SOFAD would be better than Violator IMHO. At the same time, I applaud them for trying something new.

    2. Wilder gave them there fortune no doubt. I miss him dearly for his input. Fletch was with the band for 40 years, so for sure had an input to the chemistry. I think it’s time for the last 2 to “hang it up” the time has come, a cat only has 9 lives…

  5. Good review, I’m loving the album, best in a long time. I do prefer the old stuff and live albums but this one fantastic and moody.

  6. One thing that bothered me after a couple of listens: Dave doesn’t sing a line that takes more than three seconds to sing throughout the album. I dunno, maybe he has lung problems these days, but it gives the songs a certain staccato feel.

    I thought the production sounded a bit like a first draft, and I’m not impressed when someone loops a Kraftwerk arpeggio because Kraftwerk were rarely that trite. I give the album 3/5, it is pleasant to listen to.

    Oh, and “People are good…” Once heard, it can’t be unheard.

    1. Good catch! I didn’t think about the duration of the lines. Maybe he doesn’t want to be gasping for air like with “Shake the Disease” which, to be fair, is a beast to sing. When I recorded my cover, I tracked “you know how hard it is for me” through the end of the chorus separately so I could take a big breath beforehand.

  7. Hi Brian, great review. Resonated very much with my experience. Although, I’ve only heard it through a few times, and will have to push myself to try again (as has been the case for many years now). There are some tracks that had that old DM flair, but being a lifelong fan doesn’t mean I’ll put up with anything. I’m there for the great melodies, and there weren’t many that grabbed me early on. But, having read your review, I will definitely give it another listen, with your comments in mind.

    I did get confused by your comment about rhyming, because with an English (or Australian) accent, “sure” certainly does rhyme with “more”, but I get that it doesn’t with an American accent. I hear your accent come through in your vocals, so I understand how that would jump out to you.

    The track titles immediately jumped out at me too. It excited me to think that there was some sort of link, but alas, no.

    At this early stage, I appreciated only a few tracks. I’m certainly not stuck in the 80s, but I’d LOVE to hear a great melody grab me like they used to. I agree with your comment about some 80s bands playing at 80s festivals or sticking to formulaic sounds, but give me a tuned sample any day, rather than a grating noise which they’ve opted for in recent decades. But, I’ll still push through in search for the brilliance that Martin was famous for.
    Thanks again.

    1. I had to push myself to keep listening too, but I became fonder of the album over time.

      “Sure” and “more” are close enough to rhyming that I’d have no problem using them in a song. In this case, it struck me as odd to sacrifice a perfect rhyme in order to facilitate such an underwhelming pair of lines.

      I’m with you 100% on the grating noises, and I’m a NIN fan so I’m not opposed to them on principle!

  8. Great review! I’m a fan and probably a bit of a Marty fangirl. I love Dave but man do I adore Marty. Also still trying to accept that MM is the final deal. It’s breaking my heart. I have seen them on 4/2 at San Antonio and have been grieving in a weird way since. Anyway. My favorite is probably People are good, but I can tell it’s Always You or Ghosts Again on a different. Least favorite is Caroline’s monkey.

    1. I’m strongly in camp Martin as well. You can hear it in my singing, going all the way back to my first release in 1994. I imagine we’re feeling a similar sort of grieving. Partially for the band, and partially for our youth. The two are deeply intertwined!

  9. Your perspective is unique, Brian. I must say, I love this album! There’s something very final yet infinite sounding about it, and especially lyrically. I find the first half, particularly, hauntingly beautiful. Like we’re experiencing death or decay in real-time, over the span of 50 minutes. I also love the cover art A LOT and love that both floral arrangements are not identical.

    I couldn’t agree more with your review of ‘Ghosts Again’ & ‘Don’t Say You Love Me’. DSYLM on an imagery level reminds me of American Psycho & also Michael Jackson’s storytelling direction with ‘Smooth Criminal’. Being the utmost insinuative without being blatantly literal. The strings are reminiscent of classic horror music which I thought was a nice touch.

    Favorite lyrics: My Cosmos Is Mine, which gives a god-like stance as an album opener, and also Don’t Say You Love Me

    Cool moments: that feeling of drowning on ‘Before We Drown’. Also though it’s an obscure track, Caroline’s Monkey sounds like it is more spoken rather than sang, which creates a cool abstract in the middle of the album. I do however think it IS randomly placed in the middle of the album, making it stick out versus stand out.

    Overall favorite song: I have two but for good reason.

    Don’t Say You Love Me: There’s such a relatable infliction that you can almost feel and take personal from the start. It’s the bleeding out from the modern day horror of loving someone who does not love you and only lives to make a fool of you. It’s cinematic, as though it could be played during a film’s opening scene, maybe during an end of a brutal murder that we don’t get to actually witness on-screen. The last line was epic and very chilling, I must agree. It brings it right home. I appreciate the play-on-words thru out the track’s entirety. It’s poetic and tragic.

    My Favorite Stranger: I love the perspective of how the narrator speaks of this “stranger” in the lyrics. Like they’re uncontrollably and uncomfortably speaking them into existence…. and fearfully observing their every move, firsthand. That being said, I do not think you’re far off in your curiosity as to whether or not this song could be about someone with DID. I don’t think you’re being over-analytical in your observation of the lyrics either. I felt as though they exude a level of shame and disgust held by the narrator, that could only be boldly and carefully placed. The harmonies linger and almost lag, making you feel like it is “the stranger” who is joining the song. A second thought, or a voice in the head. Which only adds an extra layer of creepy to the track, in my opinion. To be honest, this IS probably my favorite track on the album. It’s disturbing enough and left me wanting to know more.

    Always You was an honorable mention as well, but very much in a B-Side way. I love how it’s written like a sick-obsessed love letter, without being the scary-type of obsessive.

    Least favorite(s): People Are Good & Never Let Me Go. Not hating on them, they just didn’t keep my interest.

    Ironically, I never listened much to Depeche Mode. I saw their music video one time on the tv during dinner at Hard Rock Cafe when I was a kid. Thank you for sharing this review, as this band is now new territory for me to explore and enjoy!

    1. Thanks for sharing your take on the album Ashley! There’s a certain poetry in your analysis that makes me want to go back and listen again.

      I certainly do have a unique perspective as a recording artist critiquing my single biggest influence. You also have the rare perspective (among readers here, anyway) of not living and breathing Depeche Mode for your entire life, or having the band define your youth. May you enjoy your trip down the rabbit hole of their discography!

  10. I’m curious as to what tracks you’re referring to that had pitch correction. I’ve a pretty good ear, so this excites me.

    1. If you had such a good ear you wouldn’t have to ask. Kidding! ;)

      No particular track comes to mind, but Exciter probably has the most egregious examples.

      And to clarify, I’m sure all the albums have pitch correction throughout. That’s just how records are made. I’m talking about spots where the tuning was sloppy.

  11. I love the comprehensive review. I haven’t explored this latest DM offering yet, but this makes it a more urgent need.
    ~ Kort

  12. My Momento Mori Track By Track Grade From 1 to 10 With 10 Being Best. I am also a longtime devotee.

    My Cosmos Is Mine:
    1st Listen Grade 3
    Nice sounding and atmospheric but lacks any crafted songwriting. Simple melody and a bridge part that doesn’t fit. The worst track on the album, but it will probably be their opening song in concert.

    Multiple Listen Grade 4
    It’s still the weakest song on the album, in my opinion, but as an opening, it works quite well, and now that I’ve listened to it multiple times, i feel it does have sprinkles of DM greatness. It’s still hard on my ear to hear that bridge come in, but musically, it does fit where, at first, i felt it didn’t. It’s a 4.

    Wagging Tongue:
    1st Listen Grade 7
    3 bands came to mind when hearing this one. Data, Kraftwerk & Slow Children. The melody is very strong and catchy & the keyboard parts fit perfectly. There is no chorus, but the song works. This one i may grade higher after more listens.

    Multiple Listen Grade 8
    Just gave this one an 8. Im liking this one more and more. It might reach 9.

    Final Update Grade 9

    Ghosts Again:
    1st Listen Grade 9
    Simple & the perfect choice for the first single. It’s got everything you expect a Depeche Mode song to be. The way Dave accents a few of the lyrics is goosebump great. This song will be a classic, and I’ll probably give it a 10 at some point.

    Multiple Listen Grade 10
    It’s a 10. There is no doubt about it.

    Don’t Say You Love Me:
    1st Listen Grade 7
    Martin loves slightly off tune, twangy, reverb, and delayed guitar parts. This is another song that grabbed me. Dave’s voice has developed through the years, and on this track, you can really hear the perfection of the work he’s put in. I have a feeling Marta is all over this one. A mixture between Italian film music with slight hints of James Bond. Im pretty sure this one will move up to an 8.

    Multiple listen Grade 8
    Another one that has hit 8 and may hit 9. Im liking this one more each time.

    Final Update Grade 9

    My favorite stranger:
    1st Listen Grade 5
    This is the one that could have been. The synths and drums are great. Unfortunately, it sounds like an unfinished song with no chorus. It starts off great. I love the verse melody & and lyrics, but it repeats and goes nowhere. They spent more time on sound effects than on the song. A drop the ball moment that could have been a great song.

    Multiple Listen Grade 5
    My score hasnt changed. It’s a 5.

    Soul With Me:
    1st Listen Grade 6
    I think this song might grow on me with more listens, but i kept thinking of Martin singing this on a cruise ship, casino, or senior bingo hall. It’s a good and typical Martin track, but not what I’d call a great Martin song.

    Multiple Listen Grade 7
    This one still is not Martin’s best ballad work, but it won me over to get a 7. It might go to 8

    Final Update Grade 8

    Caroline’s Monkey:
    1st Listen Grade 5
    This song is the middle of the road at best and will probably fall lower than the 5 i gave it. The verse melody is decent, but the song doesn’t progress. No chorus and the lyrics, just dont grab me. A definite Richard Butler Psych Furs b side.

    Multiple Listen Grade 6
    This song, which i didn’t care for my first listen to, is growing on me. I initially gave it a 5. Just changed it to a 6. I hear a subtle chorus now. It may reach 7

    Final Update Grade 7

    Before We Drown:
    1st listen Grade 10
    This track also gave me chills and grew on me the fastest. After the second listen, i was all in. Those chords & the songwriting are top-notch.

    Multiple Listen Grade 10

    People Are Good:
    1st Listen Grade 6
    Can someone say Karl Bartos, Kraftwerk. This one sounds like it’s going to be great but just fizzles back to the good zone and doesn’t break through. It’s slightly better than a 5, but this one is a toss-up. My score of 6 might go up or down.

    Multiple listen Grade 7
    Well, im going to 7 on this one. It grabbed me, so i went up one score, but i dont think it’s an 8. 7 is where it will stay.

    Final Update Grade 8
    This one grew on me the most. It’s an 8 now

    Always You:
    1st Listen Grade 10
    This & Before We Drown are my favorite songs on the album. The melody, chord structure, words, and production are perfect. Got chills the first listen, and it’s only got better. A very solid 10

    Multiple Listen Grade 10
    all the way.

    Never Let Me Go:
    1st Listen Grade 7
    This is another song that is good, but with more effort, it could have been great. The melody is just not there like it could have been. With just a little more time and work, they could have gotten it right.

    Multiple Listen Grade 7
    Still think it’s a 7 that could have been an 8 or 9 with just a little more melodic refinement.

    Final Update Grade 8
    This one kept getting better. It’s an 8

    Speak to me:
    1st Listen Grade 9
    A filmic Italian Noire type of production mixed with a strong song can only end on greatness, and this album ends with greatness.

    Final thoughts:
    1st Listen Grade B (84 out of 100)

    Overall, the lyrics are great, and there’s enough mood to please the DM devotees family. I just wish on some of the tracks that they spent just a little more time refining the melodies & chorus parts, which would have made this very good to great record a classic.

    Multiple Listen Grade A (91 out of 100)

    While not being Violator, SOFAD, BC or MFTM, It will become a classic in its own right. It got better with each listen. There is enough here to rank it among their best work post, Alan.

    Final Update Grade A+ (97 out of 100)

    1. It seems you’re attempting to challenge me on word count! ;)

      I love your detailed analysis and especially your first vs multiple listen scores! My opinions evolved quite a bit too, but didn’t drift quite so far, and not always upwards.

      That said, I’m not about to do the math, but if you average out your scores, I don’t think you’d arrive at 97%. That doesn’t leave much room for Violator and friends!

      I got a chuckle out of imagining Martin singing “Soul With Me” in a senior bingo hall! But it probably would be comforting to that particular audience.

  13. I absolutely LOVED your review. I am a long time fan of DM but I am obviously not a musician such as yourself. I, of course, gave a pass when it comes to criticism. I enjoyed reading your analysis coming from your perspective and I think most of us will agree, this album is literally an Easter basket (well, in my case, it was) full of surprises. I believe most people will enjoy it. I know I do!

  14. Fantastic review. It actually made me go back and listen to all of the things you bring up. Much appreciated.

  15. Nice job.
    I think Wagging Tonge could be next single
    I like that, Ghosts Again and Speak To Me best at this point.
    I agree that they were at their best when Alan Wilder was in the fold.
    Did not know that! When you listen to Recoil you can definitely hear the influence he had on their best stuff. Dave can sing, but his solo stuff has me scratching my head from a song perspective. Martin has always contributed the odd sounds that I love. I think Andy was mainly the peacekeeper in the group.
    Martin’s solo stuff is…interesting
    I love his Counterfeit ones, but their covers so not his own songs.
    Then there’s the experimental stuff more recently, which is more of him just playing around with sounds
    Did you hear the Chimpanzee ep?
    I noticed he snuck a bit of those sounds in My Favourite Stranger.

    1. Just realized I didn’t finish my sentence…
      Meant to say I did not know that others felt that that way too about Alan being a missing piece!

    2. I didn’t make the connection between that EP and My Favourite Stranger, but I only heard the former once or twice. When the first Counterfeit album came out, I was in love! I’m not sure I even knew they were covers. I recorded my own version of “Compulsion” on a cassette 4-track and it was terrible. :)

  16. I feel very similar to the way you’ve expressed the album here. Like right down to the songs I love and the few I believe should’ve been forgotten off of the album. I love Depeche Mode and I know it wasn’t easy for Martin and Dave to work on it together without another person around to play martyr so in a sense it’s better than I expected. I give it a perfect score for one simple idea I have…I really believe this should be their final album period. It’s not that I think they couldn’t do another great album but I really believe this would be a perfect album to finalize and end Depeche Mode. Just my thoughts. You spoke of the Cure in the article also, well made reference to them….they are my number one favourite bad of all time and they’ve been working the last 3 years on a new album also and I believe just like I said for Depeche More, the new album by the Cure when released should be their final. I’m 55 now and I grew up listening to both bands, it’d be nice to have them around for longer but I believe both bands have already released the best they could’ve done. Once again, just my feelings about them.

    1. Regardless of whether or not it actually is their last album, it certainly feels like it! I’d happily accept a somewhat experimental solo album from Martin with his original songs and vocals over another DM album. Of course I’ve been wishing for that my entire life!

      I’ve always considered DM my favorite band but I’ve probably spent more hours listening to The Cure. They mostly lost me after Wish though, so I’m not optimistic about the new one. Bloodflowers in particular didn’t deliver on its promise after all the talk of it being the third in a trilogy with Pornography and Disintegration.

  17. I liked the educated and non-devotional character of this review. You must really know well the band and its music. So thank you for this singular and expert perspective.

    However I regret a certain lack of sensitivity…
    To take one example, you take a shot at Dave’s songwriting. I’m not far from agreeing with you on the ANALYSIS of the lyrics. But not at all on their ability to move us, including with powerful images. The song you first enjoyed Before We drown is a Depeche Mode masterpiece. It doesn’t need to “chat GPT” old band hits, as you say (cruelly) say to exist brilliantly.

    This is music, let’s not forget to open our soul to it, because otherwise we run the risk of analysing songs not much better than an AI would…

    1. A fair point! Still, I’d argue that the emotional impact of the lyrics comes from Dave’s moving delivery, not the words themselves. I didn’t spot any powerful images in that particular song.

  18. Hey Brian,
    Your review was great and as I said on Instagram – you are spot on!

    I’ll try to be brief… to me, Memento Mori has a sound like early Kraftwerk mixed with “A Broken Frame”, “Construction Time Again” and “Some Great Reward”, along with guitar.

    I can hear Marta Salogni’s influence all over this album. It’s bright and sparse, and leaves a lot of space… maybe too much space? I know the sound of tape and I hear it’s signature out-of-time rhythms all over. I like it, but the production is a bit bare and the tape stands out just a touch too much. Can I do better?.. heck no! :) But there’s a lot of emptiness… maybe this is intentional?

    Anyway, that’s my 2 cents. It’s a good album and we waited 6 years for it. Martin has a ton of gear in his studio, and I hope he puts it to good use after the tour is over… but please, no more Third Chimpanzee! ;-p

    1. Thanks Reggie! I’m not hearing MM quite the same way, and in fact, I’d love to hear an album with the recipe you laid out. Objectively “A Broken Frame” is far from their best, but it’s quite possible that’s the one I’ve heard the most. Agree 100% on the space, even with “Ghosts Again.” I don’t have a strong opinion on whether it’s an asset or a liability though.

  19. I believe it’s their best since Violator, and I am also a long term DM fan. Seen them about 7 times. You might want to give the listening of this album a break for a week, and then come back to it. I believe your overall rating will increase substantially. Especially with the 3 closing tracks.

    1. You’ve got yourself a deal Dale! I haven’t listened to it since writing this, so I’m halfway there. I purposely didn’t give any sort of star or numerical rating but I know what you mean!

  20. Speak to me is my favorite,followed by wagging tongue. I was surprised it was a Dave song. This is DM best album since PTA.

  21. Mmmmm

    You’ve thought this through obviously. That’s the problem for me .. I’ve enjoyed (understatement loved ) feeling the album, enjoying the vocals and sound.
    Each to their own of course but “feel” seems to be missing from your review .
    Best wishes

  22. I read the whole thing- laughed at the chat GPT, i read a poem someone asked Chat to cross TS Eliot with Psy furs and it was awesome. Performance art will hopefully remain the domain of humans. Fingers crossed DM come down under in 2024

    1. ChatGPT is a barrel of laughs! I wish I had more time to mess around with it. Unfortunately it doesn’t yet make for a good songwriting partner. It’s great at math but doesn’t understand syllable count!

  23. I agree that “Before We Drown” really stood out despite the lyrics…they are still making their mark, and singing really well on the current tour. They really are still relevant and not reduced to nostalgia act

  24. Hi I enjoyed your very honest and in depth review of depeche mode latest ,I must say it’s their best in ages I couldn’t really gel with some of the recent fare spirit I felt lacked any bar cover me which I love. The thing you hit on about the production and mix is dead right it’s the best Sonics since my favourite of the second era ultra. I’m seeing them at Twickenham and judging by the set list theres actually only a few songs from this getting aired. Anyway it’s good to read something that isnt afraid to speak its mind I like that .best wishes trevor

    1. Thanks for the kind words Trevor! I googled “Twickenham” and man, that looks like a huge stadium! Someone on Facebook was complaining about the setlist and actually canceled their travel plans and sold their tickets.

  25. It’s nice to hear some new music from a band I’ve listened to for many years and I guess they’ve matured musically it’s not what I’d call an instant catchy group of songs but like spirit it takes a few listens to appreciate the album.