Mute – 2005 – 52 minutes
"Pain and misery always hit the spot," sings Dave Gahan on Depeche Mode's new album. If it wasn't wide of the mark, that lyric would have made a better tagline than the one the trio have chosen – "pain and suffering in various tempos" - for the back cover. But then, 'Playing the Angel' doesn't fully live up to that billing either, relying, as it does, too much on that electro grind and marching-at-a-state-funeral pace that Depeche Mode do better than anyone – and more often than anyone.
Notable for being the first time that Gahan has written for a Depeche Mode album, his behind-the-scenes inclusion yields the album's best track, 'Suffer Well'. It's everything that every song on this record should have been: instantly memorable, dynamic and powered by a great chorus. Elsewhere, we get the predictable (Gahan's 'Enjoy the Silence'-recalling 'Precious', 'Lilian'), the passable ('A Pain That I'm Used To', 'The Sinner in Me') and the pretentious ('John the Revelator', 'Macro', 'Damaged People') – but nothing that straddles dance and drama quite like 'Suffer Well'.
Throngs of the faithful and devoted will, of course, lap all this up. But just how many could say that 'Playing the Angel' isn't the sound of an outfit digging too deep at the seam of past glories?
Tracklisting: A Pain That I'm Used To – John the Revelator – Suffer Well – The Sinner in Me – Precious – Macro – I Want It All – Nothing's Impossible – Introspectre – Damaged People – Lilian – The Darkest Star