Arts, Music

Depeche Mode Ponders Death on ‘Memento Mori’

“Remember you must die” is the English translation of Depeche Mode’s newest album title, Memento Mori—and what a fitting title it is. 

The album explores death with all of its ramifications and the conflicting emotions it causes. It is almost impossible not to have an existential crisis listening to Memento Mori, a vast departure from the upbeat and love-centered “Just Can’t Get Enough,” one of the band’s most popular songs.

Depeche Mode, currently made up of Dave Gahan and Martin Gore, does darkness well. The entire album, which is 12 tracks long, feels otherworldly. The synth plays a major role in transporting the listener to another place—whether that is heaven, hell, or somewhere in between. 

“My Cosmos Is Mine” is a jarring yet fitting opener to the album. It immediately launches the listener into intense instrumentation accompanied by dark vocals and lyrics. The bridge is full of repetitive phrases, creating a sense of monotony that might overwhelm the listener: 

“No war, no war, no war / No more, no more, no more, no more / No fear, no fear, no fear, no fear / Not here, not here, not here, not here / No rain, no clouds, no pain, no shrouds / No final breaths, no senseless deaths,” Depeche Mode sings on “My Cosmo is Mine.” 

There is a lot of pain evident in these lyrics, which is indicative of this being the band’s first release since one of the founding members, Andy Fletcher, died last year. The awareness of death and the confrontation of mortality that are central to this album were certainly informed by Fletcher’s death, and it is clear that the surviving band members do not want anyone to forget him.

“Ghosts Again” is a standout on the album. The band’s roots in the ’80s are quite evident in this song, and it is one of the only tracks that feels slightly more upbeat than the chaotic existentialism present in much of the album. “Ghosts Again” provides quite easy listening, though its lyrics are certainly no happier than “My Cosmos is Mine.” 

“Wasted feelings / Broken meanings / Time is fleeting / See what it brings,” Depeche Mode sings on “Ghosts Again.”

Everyone dies, Depeche Mode seems to be saying, and often, time brings nothing but pain.

Death is seen as an escape from the pain and suffering of life in the latter half of the album. “Soul With Me” is all about the beauty of death, and how it releases a person from all of the pointless worries of Earth. 

“I’m going where the angels fly / And I’m taking my soul with me,” Depeche Mode sings. 

Similarly, “Caroline’s Monkey” points out the futility of existence, told from a third person perspective about a woman named Caroline. The song begins with the lyrics “Caroline knows how fragile we are.”

“Caroline feels the ice in her veins / The minutes and hours / The naming of days,” Depeche Mode sings later on.

The lyrics are reminiscent of  Act 5, Scene 5 of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth.

“Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow / Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,” MacBeth says. 

Life goes by, one day at a time, one minute at a time, and nothing really matters, according to the album.

In “People Are Good,” the band tries to convince itself that people are inherently good, but he does not believe it, as the song ends with, “keep fooling yourself.” This cynicism and disillusionment with life paints the end of the album, making the listener wonder if it is better to die than to live.

Memento Mori is a bleak and cynical look at life and a celebration of death and what comes after life. Its themes feel very reminiscent of many songs by The Smiths, particularly “Asleep.” The album is not for the faint of heart, as it might make listeners think existentially and grapple with and ponder death. But what is music for if it does not challenge us?

March 30, 2023