Plenty of pop artists took to Twitter in reaction to the 2016 elections in the United States and the United Kingdom over Donald Trump’s presidency and Britain’s vote to exit the European Union.
But there’s a big difference between expressing an opinion in 140 characters and putting those thoughts into a cogent pop song format. The British synth-pop band Depeche Mode isn’t the first act we expected to go political with the urgency of a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young circa 1970. But on “Spirit” (☆☆☆, Columbia/Mute) Depeche Mode’s 14th studio recording, its most interesting, tuneful and vital set since President Bill Clinton’s first term, the trio have come up with the first real protest album of the Trump/Brexit era.
On the first four songs — “Going Backwards,” “Where’s the Revolution,” “The Worst Crime” and “Scum” — songwriter Martin Gore has singer Dave Gahan angrily referencing “uneducated readers,” “patriotic junkies” and “misguided leaders” while bemoaning “We are not bigots/We have not evolved/We have no respect, we have lost control.” “Going Backwards” offers a tragically sad summation in Gahan’s repetitive “We feel nothing inside” over a bank of doom-laden, minor key synths. The 12-song standard edition of the album ends on “Fail” and Gore’s belief that “our consciences bankrupt, we’re f-----.”
The album’s middle isn’t quite as immediate or concerned with the seismic shifts the U.K. and U.S. have undergone since last June and November, respectively. But here, on songs like the nearly salacious “You Move,” Depeche Mode is on familiar territory trafficking in songs of interpersonal connections of the mind and body, amid electro-beats and bluesy guitar fuzz, which should please fans who discovered DM in the 1980s. Gahan hasn’t had this much to work with, or sounded as good in the studio, since the jet black “Songs of Faith and Devotion” in 1993.
Depeche Mode’s Global Spirit Tour plays Miami’s AmericanAirlines Arena on Sept. 15.
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