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That '80s sound is far from outmoded

October 16, 2005|Steve Hochman

Depeche Mode

"Playing the Angel" (Sire/Reprise)

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WITH so many new bands (the Killers, the Bravery) staking a claim on an '80s rock aesthetic and so many old bands (Gang of Four, the Pixies) reclaiming their place, vintage electro-moper Depeche Mode makes a strong bid not to be overshadowed. Musical architect Martin Gore crafts sounds tauter than ever on "Playing the Angel" (in stores Tuesday), inventing new shades of gray and managing to be both challenging and inviting, while lyrics by Gore and singer Dave Gahan balance familiar expressions of doubt and helplessness with a brightened sense of hope and confidence.

It's clearly recognizable as DM -- Gahan's dolorous vocals pretty much ensure that, as do Gore's minor-key shifts and blip-centric sonic palette. Yet there's an unexpected freshness to most of the songs, from the distorted siren wail that starts the album to the Eno-like atmospherics of the brief instrumental "Introspectre."

Even such songs as "Precious," a somber ballad that could have come from pretty much any of the group's 10 previous albums since 1981, somehow manage to transcend nostalgia. Though 2001's "Exciter" was of similar quality, it's a pleasant revelation to hear an act at peak strength this far into a career.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

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