Released: Oct. 17, 2005
Gloom, despair and agony … No, it's not a Hee-Haw tribute but the latest black celebration from Depeche Mode, peppered with cheerful song titles like "Suffer Well," "A Pain That I'm Used to" and "Damaged People." More than a few critics have called this the best DM album since the creative and commercial peak of 1990's Violator, but I think we're all just feeling maybe a tad too eager to relive that album after getting burned by some of the disappointments that followed, aren't we? Musically, the greatest similarity between the two albums is the standout track and lead single "Precious," which hearkens to the smooth, delicately beautiful synth soundscape of "Enjoy the Silence." It's the hookiest of the songs here, and I love the subtle sonar-like sound purring throughout the track. Despite the cacophonous noise that launches the album opener, "A Pain That I'm Used to," it emerges as one of the better songs, which isn't saying much. Playing the Angel is a better album than 1997's Ultra, but most of it isn't half as memorable as Violator's weaker tracks. I'll stick with Songs of Faith and Devotion as my late-period DM album of choice.