One seemingly ordinary day last week, Depeche Mode fans woke to find our email inboxes and social media feeds exploding. “Heaven” had leaked a day early! Happy Christmas!
For me, it took an incredible amount of discipline not to listen or download it. I’ll save the details why I would wait for another post, but when the powers that be were forced to Kevin & Bean the go-ahead to play and stream the song a day early to mitigate the leaks, there was no sense in waiting. I gave in.
It was love at first listen.
My first thought went something like this: “Uh, is that a Casio loop..??” But when the pianos and vocals kicked in, the song took me away on a journey. I’m a very visual person, and I tend to see good songs play out in my head like music videos or geometric shapes and colors. This song certainly came across as a narrative – full of dynamism and motion that I find difficult to describe verbally. Like a dream where one is falling. Flying. And falling again. Floating. Suspended in water, and dissolving into bubbles. If this sounds weird and esoteric, I’m not sorry. I like my wacky artist brain. The power behind the vocals blew me away, and the atmosphere permeated my soul in the way that very few bands besides Depeche Mode can do. The song is very encompassing, and calming. One of those songs that makes you forget stress and fear, and accept the world for what it is.
When I put the visuals on hold for a minute, I am able to acknowledge that this song is the closest to 70s rock the band has ever been. And not Rod Stewart like they said in interviews (WTF, guys). The prominent, gut-stirring guitar lines are reminiscent of classic legends Pink Floyd (tied for my favorite band before I found DM) and a little Led Zeppelin, even. I sensed a bit of The Doors, too. All are fine by me. I love that the band are exploring unexpected influences and sounds. It’s what they have always done best. There are the signature sounds of DM woven throughout – clinky and clanky metallic sounds, Martin’s favorite green Gretsch, and one of Dave’s best vocals ever. I have really missed hearing his voice like this – Exciter was the last time he really belted it out in this way for Depeche Mode. There was “In Chains”, bit even that was a different style/key. After the Soulsavers album, I was really, really hoping we’d get some vocals like these on the DM record and I got my wish.
The weakest part of the song are the downplayed percussion loops. They come across a bit weak. If Christian had recorded for the studio, I think the song would be rounded out much better.
A lot of hardcore fans have spent some hours dissecting the technical aspects of the song – I was abducted by my visual muse. I react first to how a song’s sound affects me emotionally. Lyrics come second. Technical things last. This is also why I absolutely loved All That’s Mine (next on the review list).
I’ll delve a little more into the lyrics and themes of the song when I review Timothy Saccenti’s video later in the week, but overall, combined with “Angel” I am over the moon excited for the new album. I am happy to see DM experimenting with sounds and styles outside their genre and putting their own spin on it. Blues? Soul? 70s rock? Bring it on. Even though they’ve always done this, it seems certain fans and critics are never happy – when they stay in the box, people call them old and stayed. When they leave the box, people wonder what the heck they were thinking. Personally, I’m glad the band never cared much for what other people think. “Stay hungry, stay foolish,” as Steve Jobs used to say.
With “Heaven,” Depeche somehow manages to capture new, different and familiar in one package – heavy guitars, downplayed electronics, surfing ever so close to blues and soul-infused classic rock, but with the blow-out vocals and arresting atmospheres that we all know and love. I am very interested to hear how this plays out live with Christian on drums.