I'm often accused of being unable to criticise Depeche Mode, seen as a cheerleader for the band unable to analyse their work objectively. Certainly my deep love of Depeche means that any new album is greeted with almost unbridled enthusiasm - my Spirit review is evidence of that alone - but when I do criticise the band, as I did when they released the pointless and amusingly expensive Mode boxset, I get criticised for offering a negative opinion. That's life I suppose, and if I'm silly enough to expect people to read things that I put up online about a band whose fanbase is, to put it mildly, dedicated then I am of course fair game.
Depeche Mode split opinion in many areas, not least within their own fanbase. Everything they say, do or release is subject to levels of analysis that would make a United Nations debate seem under prepared. You know the battle grounds by now - Alan or no Alan, drums or no drums, obscure album tracks or greatest hits, anything new not being as good as anything old and so on and so on and so on until the internet runs out of space because someone in the Ukraine is telling someone in Montreal that the whole world changed for the worse when Alan left over two decades ago. It'll never end.
Tours are one of the great uniting factors among Depeche Mode fans however. Everyone loves a Depeche Mode tour and the gigs are now huge communal meet-ups celebrating the best band there has ever been (note lack of objectivity - it was quite deliberate).Ok, not everyone loves the tours. People will always complain about setlist variation (very little of that since 1984 fact fans) or the new band set up, more of which in a bit, but, in the main, Depeche Mode fans love a Depeche Mode tour.
And Depeche Mode fans loved the Global Spirit Tour. The band played their biggest tour ever, taking in 130 mainly sold out dates. The enthusiasm for the tour was such that I managed to get all 130 gigs reviewed on this blog by fans who were at them and, in the main, the reviews were all positive. I went to nine gigs in total, from the Barrowlands to both nights in Berlin, and every one I went to was an incredible experience. Things like the new remixes of Everything Counts and Walking In My Shoes, "Heroes" at the London Stadium, Personal Jesus at the Barrowlands and three days in Berlin with friends old and new that I will never forget meant that the Global Spirit Tour was a remarkable event for me. I know many other people felt the same and so there was great interest in the live film that would inevitably follow the tour when cameras were noted at the Waldbuhne gigs.
Now, no live recording will replicate the feeling of being at the gig that was actually recorded; no-one would ever expect that. I was lucky to have been at the Waldbuhne and I genuinely thought that gig was one of the best Depeche shows I've been to as my review said. That night, Stripped sounded as good as it ever has done, a titanic track played against a backdrop of a glorious deep pink sky as the sun finally set over the stage. Never Let Me Down Again was louder than I had ever heard it and all the better for it and the whole set with the exception of the mood slowing Poison Heart and Where's The Revolution flew by, positively crackling with electricity from beginning to end. It was a special gig to be at and the crowd had an edge, infused with an unspoken agreement between us all that we would celebrate this glorious band in case, as is always rumoured, that this was going to be the last Depeche Mode show ever. The feeling that everyone present had that night could never be replicated but surely it could at least be hinted at on any release?. Surely LiVE SPiRiTS should show people just how good it was?
Sadly, it doesn't. This live album is flat. It's badly mixed, it seems too slow in places (play Stripped from this and then listen to the bootlegs - something has gone wrong somewhere) and, in places, it just sounds awful. It lays bare things you don't acknowledge on the tour such as a Depeche Mode gig being no place for a bass guitar or the sounds the band use on tracks like Everything Counts are weak cover band versions of the real thing, a real thing the band played for years with no need to alter it. There is far too much here that just doesn't fit - it's really strange.
Ultimately, it's just really disappointing. There are moments of absolute genius of course, such as The Things You Said (sigh...), Everything Counts' incredible intro (though PLEASE lose those bloody tom- tom fills - ARGH) and a quite glorious "Heroes," one of the night's emotional high points, but there are not enough of those moments. I usually try to shy away from the whole things-aren't-as-good-as-they-used-to-be thing, but it's no Devotional or 101. To be perfectly honest, the live tracks on the Limited edition 12" singles of Get The Balance Right, Everything Counts and Love In Itself have more life to them overall.
The live album, a few tracks aside, isn't one I'll return to much if at all. The DVD is great to have because it takes me back to that glorious night in Berlin and there are moments on it that brought me out of my seat like I was celebrating yet another glorious Mo Salah goal (Liverpool have just won the league - let me have this) but it doesn't get across the energy the whole arena positively fizzed with that night. I've seen people take issue with a number of the performance aspects on the DVD but I'm not that interested in analysing Dave's dancing, Martin's bouncing/dancing thing or Peter's petering. I'm interested in the music and sadly, this release doesn't hit the heights I need it to.
As I've mentioned above, I would never expect that this release would allow me to feel what I felt at the gig - even for a Depeche Mode fan that would be a demand too far. What I expected though was something that at least sounded like I know the band sounded that night at what a special gig. What we've got instead is a decent enough show that sounds like it was played at a decent enough venue during a decent enough tour. Nearly two years on from the Waldbuhne, it doesn't serve as a memento of a great tour; it serves as nothing more than a reminder a tour happened.
And, believe me, as a band cheerleader, I hate saying that.