I wonder if Depeche Mode fans just don’t like the idea of being happy? That’s one possible explanation for why they might not be too fond of Exciter anyway. But it celebrates its fifteenth anniversary this week, and so like it or not, now is a good time to give it a listen.
It opens with the excellent Dream On, an unusual opening single for the trio, as it’s immediately accessible and enjoyable – often they seem to prefer to challenge their fans with something obscure as a first single. It really sets the mood for the album – after a number of increasingly dark and introspective releases, Exciter found Depeche Mode in their happiest state of mind for years, and this is reflected in the music.
Shine is another example of this – it has a slightly dark side in the bridge, but even so it’s hard to imagine something like this being included on Ultra (1997) or Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993). There’s almost more in common with their first two or three albums than anything recent, and that’s very refreshing.
It blends into The Sweetest Condition, which at least borrows some slide guitar from the preceding album, and then When the Body Speaks might be one of the most beautiful songs Depeche Mode have ever recorded, with the gentler strumming allowing Dave Gahan to deliver a much more sensitive vocal than he otherwise might.
Their dark side is still there, as The Dead of Night amply demonstrates, although some might suggest that it isn’t quite as sincere as on previous releases. Perhaps surprisingly, contemporary reviews seem to have picked this track out as one of the highlights from Exciter while much of the album was dismissed as vacuous, but to me that just demonstrates Depeche Mode‘s greatest strength – even with three and a half decades of albums behind them, they are still able to surprise and perplex their listeners. You might not like everything they’ve done, and honestly neither do I, but we have to agree that they’re always interesting.
The short instrumental Lovetheme carries us through to the beautiful and unshakable Freelove, one of many songs which, when they play live, the audience continues to sing long after it’s finished. It’s so serene, in fact, that it’s rather difficult to actually write a review without singing along yourself.
Martin L. Gore turns up in person to deliver the curious Comatose, and then we launch headlong into the brilliant I Feel Loved, a modern disco anthem every bit as good as the one it’s surely almost named after. It’s difficult to understand how anybody could dislike anything this good. Then Gore turns up again on Breathe, before the short and very sweet instrumental Easy Tiger.
I Am You is a surprising penultimate track – it would be easy to dismiss it without much thought, but it’s actually rather catchy and atmospheric, and after that comes Goodnight Lovers, which might be the best song on here. I don’t think Depeche Mode had ever done anything quite like this before, a very gentle, lullaby-like song which would later make a very effective limited edition last single before they went off to their respective solo projects for another three or four years.
Ultimately, Exciter seems to be difficult to dislike. There are moments when you wonder if they’re trying to channel their own past a little too much – particularly the Violator album – but if nothing else it’s very refreshing to see Depeche Mode look on the bright side for once.