Less equals more

So, uh, when did Depeche Mode become such a texturally interesing band? And when did David Gahan learn how to croon?

It must be producer Mark Bell, the guy partly responsible for turning Björk from a punk party-band chanteuse to an electronica pop diva.

A lot of the ethereal effects that made Björk’s Homogenic a fascinating listen informs a lot of Exciter.

And with songwriter Martin L. Gore trading larger-than-life dance beats for more subtle rhythms and more mellow fare, Bell manages to keep Exciter from sinking into the filler boredom of most Depeche Mode album tracks.

Most of the songs on Exciter writhe and seethe without ever exploding into a grand chorus or bridge, and they work because of it.

Bell and the band build to climaxes that never come and always back off before anything gets to crowded.

“Dream On”, “I Am You” and “Shine” capitalize on this technique most effectively.

Other times, DM is content to soak in a sea of ethereal effects on such tracks as “Comatose”, “Breathe” and “The Sweetest Condition.” In the past, these excursions often tended to be the most boring moments on a Depeche Mode album, but with Bell’s arrangement expertise, they never lose interest.

“When the Body Speaks” is perhaps one of the more beautiful DM songs. Driven by a throbbing bass but never getting louder than a quiet whisper, this restrained ballad absolves the band for ever writing “Somebody”.

Despite drug problems and a suicide attempt — or maybe because of them — Gahan has become a stronger singer, not by becoming more powerful but by exercising tremendous control. On this album, Gahan has mastered the concept of “less is more.”

Exciter makes some very forgiveable missteps when it tries to dredge up the past. “The Dead of Night” sounds like an outtake from Songs of Faith and Devotion that should have remained an outtake. But even a lyrically weak song as “Breathe” still possesses an insanely catchy melody.

“I Feel Loved”, on the other hand, is a nice return to Depeche Mode’s more dance-floor friendly work.

Exciter is perhaps one of the most coherent albums Depeche Mode has ever recorded, and it never has to resort to overstatement to make that point.