A Spiritual Review: Depeche Mode

Depeche Mode is an iconic band from the 1980s and 90s. Perhaps their best-known track is Enjoy the Silence, but they wrote a string of remarkable hits when they were at their peak including Master and Servant, Personal Jesus, Somebody and Blasphemous Rumors. I will take a detour here to notice and deplore that many of these bands are able to write amazing material during their first 10 to 15 years but in seem to lose their creative touch. In the case of Depeche Mode, there was such an incredible pressure to move away from the electro sound in the 90s and then to survive simply getting old in the 2000’s… There is also tremendous pressure to support a new release with a tour and then having to write another studio album to meet contract obligations or simply not be forgotten. I have seen this going downhill phenomenon with a number of bands including The Killers, Snow Patrol and even The Cure considering how disappointing their 2008 album was comparatively. Sometimes, it is the quality of the melodies that goes down while the quality of the lyrics may increase, especially on the IC XC scale. But if the melody isn’t good, the lyrics don’t quite matter because the song isn’t listened to…

Back to Depeche Mode. A major factor we have to think about when reflecting on the spiritual journey of artists is the effect of drugs and touring. Touring is pretty awful but combined with drugs and alcohol, can really be a destructive force. In some cases, songs written under the influence can be tremendous. They tend to be incredibly obscure and make little rational sense but are able to conjure powerful images that stay with us for a lifetime. Dave Gahan was especially affected by drug addiction, to the point of attempting suicide. He represents the archetypal descent into darkness so tragically experienced by many successful artists.

Blasphemous Rumors is a song with an actual full, which is rare and difficult, about a 16-year-old religious girl who still gets hit by a car and eventually dies, leaving her mother to mourn. The catchy and haunting chorus says:

I don’t want to start

Any blasphemous rumors

But I think that God’s

Got a sick sense of humor

And when I die

I expect to find Him laughing

Although this song seems very dark and anti-God, it has been my experience when I first heard it and when I discuss it with others that it really is meant to express the depth of the struggle with seemingly absurd and unfair events in life, but not a struggle that ends up denying God as in atheism but rather wrestling with God as in Jacob’s struggle with the angel.

Another classic Depeche Mode quasi-religious moment is a song Personal Jesus which is open to interpretations. It does seem to our knowledge the need to reach out and touch faith but like the song Touched by the hand of God by New Order, it also seems to reject the commercialized, superficially emotional and just-too-easy American evangelical approach to religion (it is hard to blame them…)

I will deliver
You know I’m a forgiver
Reach out and touch faith
Reach out and touch faith
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who’s there

In recent years, Depeche Mode has continued to move towards a more overtly spiritual mindset, the most recent release (2016) being entitled Spirit for a reason.

It would be a stretch to put Dave Gahan and by extension Depeche Mode in the category of Orthodox Christian bands even though it is so amazing to think that Gahan sacramentally (some would say technically) became Greek Orthodox and was married in the church. It is only fair to let them say in his own words:

When it comes to religion, it’s very confusing and always has been for thousands of years and probably will be for thousands of years more. I don’t know what it is I believe in, but I know that I feel a sense of some kind of higher power, for lack of better words.