DEPECHE MODE – Spirit
THE GOOD: British synthpop legend Depeche Mode comes back with a highly politicized fourteenth.
THE BAD: While “Spirit” may be very potent lyrically, it’s somewhat lukewarm musically.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Since 1997’s “Ultra,” the band has been a trio releasing an album and touring the world behind it every four years like clockwork. Here in the States, that cycle coincides with the year we either swear in a new President, or at least re-inaugurate one.
This time, the new record embraces the current unrest; “Spirit” was written and recorded in the era of Brexit and our own wacky presidential election. Martin Gore writes and Dave Gahan sings about our de-evolution (“Going Backwards”) and complacency (“Where’s the Revolution”). The corporate greed running through “Poorman” feels like the second coming of “Everything Counts.” “Fail” ends the record in a fit of frustration.
Too bad the musical style on the album sometimes feels like a rerun. 2017 can sound an awful lot like 2005, 2009 and 2013 all over again.
BUY IT?: Your choice.
BLONDIE – Pollinator
THE GOOD: American new wave legends and Hall-of-Famers Blondie come back with their eleventh.
THE BAD: The record loses some of its drive across the second half, but remains a massive improvement over 2014’s scattershot “Ghosts of Download.”
THE NITTY GRITTY: Usually when a band uses outside collaborators and writers, that’s a sure sign the “well is running dry”; the end results tepid at best. However, the outside help in this case may have been just what Blondie needed in order to churn out that great new wave record we all knew was still there.
Joan Jett swings by to add harmonies to the Debbie Harry/Chris Stein original “Doom or Destiny.” Johnny Marr pens the haunting and super-infectious “My Monster.” Other songwriting assistance comes from the likes of Sia, the Strokes’ Nick Valensi and TV on the Radio’s David Sitek. No partnership sounds out of place; the album never shedding a certain consistency. Plus, despite turning 72 this summer, Debbie Harry remains a captivating force out in front.
BUY IT?: Yes.
THE JESUS AND MARY CHAIN – Damage and Joy
THE GOOD: Scottish indie duo JAMC (actually forever feuding brothers Jim and William Reid) return for their seventh proper album and first in almost two decades.
THE BAD: Some tracks are re-recordings of songs originally found on side projects and solo efforts. But those are only “repeats” for the absolute completists.
THE NITTY GRITTY: “Damage” ends up a standard JAMC set — catchy melodies on the upbeat tracks, thick stoner vibes on the slower bits, layers of guitar feedback and distortion (a little less than the old days), and the occasional female guest adding some much welcome vocal interplay. Visitors this time include the lovely Isobel Campbell (formerly of Belle & Sebastian) and the Reid’s younger sister Linda Fox.
As usual, there’s also plenty of deadpan sarcasm and cheeky shock value within the lyrics. Whether it’s the false patriotism painted across “Los Feliz (Blues and Greens)” or off-handed Kurt Cobain murder theories on “Simian Split,” the Reids love making us snicker.
BUY IT?: I would.