Don’t let the title fool you: Depeche Mode’s Exciter isn’t exciting, so much as it is serenely pleasing. If you’re looking for the epic, synth-pop sounds that powered Violator into a modern-day classic, well, to quote Depeche Mode’s latest single, “Dream On”.
Exciter hums with a quiet, restrained sound that will burrow it’s way into the listener’s heart while they’re not looking. Don’t stand there with your arms crossed waiting for your speakers to rock out to “Personal Jesus, Part II”, because it’s not gonna happen. Expect plenty of ballad-like offerings, such as “When the Body Speaks” or “Goodnight Lovers”, songs that would wilt under the care of any other vocalist but Dave Gahan. In fact, Gahan’s voice shines with a naked clarity that we just haven’t heard in Depeche Mode’s previous work. It thrives quite well on its own, outside the sonic machinations of the group, to create what one reviewer called “a kind of electro-accoustic” sound.
There are danceable moments on this album, especially on “I Feel Loved” and “Dream On”, which pulsate and shimmer enough to appease Depeche Mode listeners. And yet, you can’t help but feel these songs are slightly undercooked, as if they weren’t left in the oven long enough to really burn. Depeche Mode are big fans of remixing their work, so I suspect the CD single versions of these and other selections will serve up just what we ordered.
Produced by Mark Bell, who worked on Björk’s Homogenic and Selmasongs, Exciter is all about, finding/escaping/giving LOVE (four out of 13 songs on the album have the word “love” in the title). But when Depeche Mode crafts a song about a puffy, bloated subject like “love”, they do so without sounding mundane or whiney (at least, on this album.) Witness the lyrics for “I Feel Loved”: “It’s the dark night of my soul / And temptation’s taking hold / But through the pain and the suffering / Through the heartache and trembling / I feel loved.”
Exciter‘s biggest mistake: “The Dead of Night”. Not only are the lyrics laughable, “We’re the horniest boys / With the corniest ploys / Who take the easiest girls / To our sleaziest worlds,” but the track is an unsuccessful nod to glam-rock that is noisy and artificial. Imagine if Trent Reznor or Marilyn Manson decided to cut a Depeche Mode tune and you’re about there.
There are precious few bands that can still record relevant and vital albums in their 20th year. Exciter has its flaws, but not enough to enjoy the silence.