Depeche Mode, Spirit

I have to confess I don't understand this album. I know why they made it, and it's at least somewhat listenable, to the extent that it sounds a bit like their earlier output and puts on the same post-New Wave artistic pretenses. (And I'm favourably disposed to their earlier output, mind you. Violator was excellent, one of the best albums in my vault, and "Somebody" was the song that I swooned to my high-school crush over.) But like so many comeback attempts it feels more like a band vainly trying to remember how they played, and they spend too much time on technique than music. Dave Gahan mercifully still has his vocal chops (contrast with, e.g., Roger Daltrey), and the group gets it together in a few places like the insistent and refreshingly creepy "So Much Love," plus the more typically styled "No More (This Is The Last Time)," with enough get-up-and-go to carry the second half until its sudden flatten-out at the end. But there are too many low points along the way like the wan and crufty "Scum" with its obnoxious distortion and insipid beat, "Eternal" in which we lower our standards for love and passion, and the end's strangely appropriate "Fail." It's slickly produced by half with the possible exception of the weak cover art and that smudged logo, but by the end I felt like nothing ever really shook loose, and nothing really stood out. "We have not evolved," sings Dave solemnly in the first track. "We're going backwards." And I certainly concur this album didn't move them forwards. (Content: a couple F-bombs.)