And Depeche Mode sound rested. Synth-pop's answer to arena rock has for the most part done away with the squelched guitars in exchange for subtle textures. Freed of chemical dependence and the gritty production of Ultra, lead singer Dave Gahan's voice is left plenty of room to snake through the stark, ambient arrangements of songwriter Martin Gore and producer Mark Bell (of LFO and Björk fame).
Forced to the fore by the minimalism of Gore and Bell, Gahan's voice sounds more confident than it has in 10 years. It's warm and intimate like a torch singer pressed to the mic with only a piano's shuffle to hide in. But Gahan, Gore and company also seem complacent. Songs on Exciter gently beguile, but at times revisit a little too blatantly each of their three '90s albums. "Shine" feels like Ultra's "Home" without the strain of unattainable fulfillment. The album's grimiest number, the distended synth-driven "The Dead of Night," comes across as a carry-over of Songs of Faith And Devotion's "I Feel You," though not as sleazy. And the more straightforward thump of "I Feel Loved" recalls the Violator era.
Exciter -- music by a band whose current idea of exciting is not giving in to indulgence, but rather whispering sordid details of past lows and their plans to reclaim highs without getting high. Being a responsible adult isn't that much of an Exciter, but Depeche Mode have learned the hard way that life can't be one huge black celebration.
Depeche Mode play HiFi Buys Amphitheatre Mon., June 9