nce a band reaches the twenty-year mark, they have earned the dubious title of a "dinosaur" act. Usually, this means that the law of diminishing returns (both musical and commercial) catches up with the group in question, leaving them with a hollow shell of their former successes.
Exciter is the first album Depeche Mode has recorded since 1997's mixed-bag effort, ULTRA, and also the first since they've crossed into dino-land. While Exciter never even comes close to the past glories of albums like Black Celebration or Music For The Masses, Exciter is a fine album from synth-pop's premier gloom-and-doomers.
Exciter trades in the edgy guitars and menacing synths of recent affairs for plaintive acoustic guitars and subtle, calming tones of emotionally detached programming. Singer David Gahan has traded his heroin-addicted drone in for a mournful croon, coloring the spaces between the beats in shades of deepest gray.
Depeche Mode has never seemed so at peace with the world and themselves. Purged of angst and life-sucking drugs that have consumed them in the past, the group sounds like a beaten man learning to love life after rehab.
What this means is that Exciter is anything but an attention-grabber at first. Only two songs break from the slow-tempo, soul-tinted album ("The Dead Of Night" and "I Feel Loved"), making it more of a mood-setter than anything else. This new approach doesn't mean that Exciter is a boring album (though it does slip in its second half); rather it is more of a soundtrack to sleepless nights and rainy days.
By focusing on a limited palette of moods and sounds, Depeche Mode has devoted time to crafting songs that will stand up to repeated listens. Obviously, the album isn't packed with hooks and immediate gratification, but there is noticeably less filler here than on previous records. The tracks found here are tweaked to the point of perfection, seemingly sparse on first examination, but brimming with barely-heard production and instrumentation.
The first single, "Dream On," will seem slight on the first listen, but give it time, and the nervy programming and taut guitar will work their way into your head.
"The Dead Of Night" is pure old-school goth, filled with images of zombies and anguish, carried along by creeping beats and Gahan's gravely vocal. Several tracks, including "Breathe" and "Goodnight Lovers" have an antiquated feel, relying heavily on pop from the 1940's and 50's. Another standout track is "I Feel Loved," which should satisfy all those older fans of Depeche Mode, with its irresistible, radio-friendly dance beat. It's no "Enjoy The Silence," but still worthwhile.
In the end, this album shows Depeche Mode struggling to be relevant. The only problem is, their legions of fans don't want to them to be relevant, they just want more of the old stuff. Exciter is an album of modest pleasures, definitely worth the time of devoted fans, but newcomers to the band should start off with their earlier work, which is much more vibrant and, dare I say, classic.
Reviewed by: Keith Gwillim
Reviewed on: 2003-09-01