Being the least self-reflective outfit in musical history may have earned Depeche Mode its status as a bluechip singles band, but it has also rendered the group’s frequent conceptual forays moot. Electronically generated post-Goth dance pop isn’t a concept, it’s a style, and when it works (three or four times per Depeche album), it doesn’t need ideas. On this eleventh effort there’s the usual talk of “darkness” and “religion” for those who get a frisson from evoking such things without actually thinking about them. Wisely, however, the band forgoes new concepts and does its tinkering musically, incorporating noisome guitar feedback, sober strings and joyful gospel moments into the pounding, percolating mix.
Song to song, Faith and Devotion showcases Depeche’s every, er, mode at its finest and adds a wee something — an intensifier, a surprise, the shocking but not unpleasant sound of frontman Dave Gahan actually singing. “I Feel You” has the twangy stomp of “Personal Jesus”; it’s ecstatically danceable. The soulful “Walking in My Shoes” does great things with backup singers and resentment. “Get Right With Me” experiments with scratching and chiming guitars, while “One Caress” sounds like the show stopper from a lachrymose Broadway musical.
Songs of Faith and Devotion documents how Depeche Mode’s savvy justifies its worst instincts; like the band itself, it’s gloomy, pretentious and winning.