May 26, 2022 was a bleak day for Depeche Mode and fans of the band around the world as news broke that beloved founding member Andy “Fletch” Fletcher had died. Word soon started spreading on social media from fan pages and insiders that the band had been working on new material. At a press conference in Berlin that October, Dave Gahan and Martin Gore confirmed the rumors by officially announcing their 15th studio album Memento Mori. The album’s title is a Latin phrase that translates to “remember you must die.” I, like many Depeche Mode fans, found it a bittersweet moment. The new promotional photos of the band as a duo initially felt jarring. I was excited as always by the announcement of a new album, but still torn up over the loss of Fletch and feeling uncertain about the future of the band. This week, my anticipation came to a head with the release of Memento Mori.
“Don’t play with my world. Don’t mess with my mind. Don’t question my space-time. My cosmos is mine” Dave Gahan beckons on the first verse of “My Cosmos Is Mine”, the statement-making first track on Memento Mori. Like an opening salvo, the confrontational song sees Depeche Mode standing their ground, staking their claim, and surviving, still here despite everything that they’ve faced over the years. Throughout the album, the now duo find themselves channeling grief, frustration, sadness, love, and mortality through stunning sonic landscapes produced by Marta Salogni and James Ford (Jessie Ware, Gorillaz, Kylie Minogue, Pet Shop Boys).
“Ghosts Again” stands out as perhaps Depeche Mode’s most accessible lead single since 2005’s “Precious” from the band’s album Playing The Angel. The radio-friendly synth-pop track co-written by The Psychedelic Furs’ Richard Butler feels like a nod to Fletch, especially in the wake of passing. Reflective, wistful and hopeful, “Ghosts Again” plays with the notion of being together in the afterlife. Other standouts for me include “Wagging Tongue” and “Soul With Me,” both of which also carry the common theme of mortality and loss. Dave Gahan has mentioned in interviews that the songwriting and demo work had largely already taken place before Fletch’s passing, but one can’t help but feel that the sudden tragedy colored the recording process.
Listeners in some corners of the Depeche Mode fandom felt the band’s 2017 effort Spirit was too heavy handed when it came to addressing the political climate, suddenly finding themselves faced with the realization that they weren’t on the same page ideologically as the band they so closely aligned with for so many years. Memento Mori isn’t completely devoid of social commentary. The Martin Gore penned and Kraftwerk-reminiscent “People Are Good” sees the band let down and pessimistic about people’s nature and motives, having to foolishly reassure oneself that there’s good in everyone in spite of their actions.
I can’t help but think that Memento Mori spells the final chapter for Depeche Mode, a capstone on a career that has taken many twists and turns since the band arrived on the scene in 1980 as Composition of Sound. With its hymnal feel, the album’s closing track “Speak To Me” feels like not just a tribute to the late Fletch but also a closing of the Depeche Mode door, knowing that their fallen member will be with them in spirit in whatever they do next. Devoted fans have been eating the album up since its release, the social media response has pretty much been universal praise which is unheard of for a legacy act with so many years in the game. And of course, there’s still the matter of the extensive world tour. I’ve got tickets for both Toronto dates, so I can’t wait to see how these songs translate live. When the tour was announced, something in me said I needed to get tickets because I didn’t know how many more chances I would get to see Depeche Mode again after this. Listening to Memento Mori confirmed that for me. If this is indeed the beginning of the end, Memento Mori proved that even in the face of immense loss, there’s still a heart behind the darkness for Depeche Mode.