Depeche Mode’s Memento Mori – Remembrance and Celebration

Written By Leanna Renee Hieber

Leanna Renee Hieber is an actress, playwright, ghost tour guide and an award-winning author of gaslamp fantasy novels. Featured in film and television on shows like Mysteries at the Museum and Beyond the Unknown, discussing Victorian Spiritualism, she is a guide for NYC’s Boroughs of the Dead and lectures nationwide on Gothic themes, 19th Century women’s history, Spiritualism and the Paranormal.

Born in 1979, I grew up with Depeche Mode. While I was a fan of their music as far back as I can remember, it was only after I fully embraced Goth in wardrobe, music, community, and identity that I understood just how important they’ve remained as a Goth-adjacent world-renowned pop band; a liminal group who managed to deftly step between our niche Goth spaces and widely beloved pop music.

What resonated with us Goths then and now (I can only speak for myself and my Goth friends) was Depeche Mode’s fearlessness about questioning faith, their willingness to discuss romantic and even transgressive power dynamics in a range of expressions, their direct address of addiction, depression, and other hard-hitting, if often taboo, subjects. Their willingness to “go there” as a band made us feel like they were asking our own vital questions with their music, not just trying to get people on a dance floor, but existing beside us in an oft-painful world.

I’m still Goth and I own every Depeche Mode album that’s come out along the way; they’ve been with me through every big move, change and new venture in my life. Their music has sung through my losses; loss of partners, loved ones, family.

Still a core part of my personal soundtrack, I’ve felt this band has never detoured, they’ve just kept layering and texturing. Their sound has changed at times, the level of distortion and the sound mix ranges, but a basic synth core never left and Dave Gahan’s vocal talents have only become richer and bolder. I think they’ve struck just the right balance of innovation while staying true to the sound and character we’ve loved from the jump. But now we listen through one of their losses.

When Andrew John Fletcher, keyboardist and founding member of the band died in May of 2022, I was heartbroken to hear it and wondered what the band would do. I was thrilled to see them continue. The moment I could pre-order Memento Mori, I did. Still very attached to physical media, I pre-ordered Memento Mori as a CD. I love that the band made a vinyl and cassette version as well; something that speaks to the wide range of formats they’ve utilized as an internationally popular band since the 80s. (The cassette version in particular felt like witnessing a resurrection.)

The album artwork is produced in black and white with Depeche Mode lettered in embossed, metallic red. Two angel wings made of white roses with central bouquets grace the cover. The album’s first released single, “Ghosts Again,” carries a beautiful melody with a subtle beat. The music video features Gahan and Gore crawling through a graveyard. Considering the title of the album, the funerary bouquets and the graveside video, the imagery of loss, death and dying is directly front and center. While the album constitutes what I’d consider a meaningful remembrance, it isn’t one I’d consider particularly funerial in tone. I sincerely doubt “Fletch” would have wanted a dirge of an album.

The interior artwork opens up to the memoriam:

‘in our HEARTS and MINDS’
dave and martin”

(capitalization and punctuation preserved here as printed)

In more interior album art, Gahan and Gore sit across a table with a skull between them. Abstract paintings of their standing figures appear opposite, with a black and white rooftop photo on an additional flap, their backs to us, a skyline ahead. The back of the case features empty chairs with only the skull remaining. The interior booklet contains solely the song lyrics, details about the recordings and a list of thanks to those who made the album happen. It is my belief that the band just wants the album to speak for itself: a beautiful tribute while still being its own new thing. Another innovation from a band that never sat still or lost their engaging beat.

The moment I began to listen to Memento Mori, I fell under a spell unique to this album. It isn’t one to dance to; it’s one to feel and savor.

For me, Depeche Mode has always been about movement and examination, and so while this one moves slowly, it moves deeply. Their songs have only leaned harder into existentialism with the leading track “My Cosmos is Mine.” That existential questing continues through the album; expansive, thoughtful, heartfelt. A study of life, people, love, loss, bitterness, hope and pain but as always, a dogged resilience.

The album continues with “Wagging Tongue,” a seemingly cautionary tale about gossip, falsehoods and the gullibility of following the deluded.

“Ghosts Again” is aptly named, haunting us with lines like “lovers in the end whisper ‘we’ll be ghosts again’” and I think it was a prime choice for a first single release.

“Don’t Say You Love Me” has a plaintive tone, the narrator positing a relationship as a series of counterpoints with this line as quite the kicker: “you are the flowers that some lover sent, I am the goodbye note that is hiding in them,” the bitterness belied by a lush orchestration.

“My Favourite Stranger” posits a double existence of a stranger taking over the narrator, a true out of body experience.

“Soul with Me” is a gospel sort of divergent track, a brighter sound which discusses death and afterlife as “heading for the ever after.”

“Caroline’s Monkey” grittily addresses a familiar topic from albums past: addiction.

“Before We Drown” is a lilting musing on letting go of toxic practices; insisting on moving forward “before we drown”; an important message for any long-term close relationship of any kind. The lyrics mention standing on a shore and the structure of the song feels like a tide coming in.

“People are Good” is one of this album’s crowning achievements. It may serve as a wearied answer to their famous “People are People” from 1984. This time the narrator is trying (and failing) to stave off his own misanthropy, insisting that “people are good” and that society must “whisper it under your breath, people are good, keep fooling yourself…” It’s hauntingly apt and I’ve sung it to myself as a sort of exhausted salve when the world does indeed prove less than good.  

“Always You” is my favorite on the album, a truly hypnotic, inexorable and unencumbered love song, drawing the listener in with an entrancing set of beats. (I confess I’ve given it as a sort of anthem to the Gothic hero and heroine of my Strangely Beautiful series; characters who I can never seem to let go of…)

Which dovetails nicely into the next track, “Never Let Me Go.” This feels like a DM classic: a tortured love fighting towards togetherness. Love is never easy in a Depeche Mode song but that just tells the truth; when is it ever, really?

“Speak to Me,” the denouement, is a palpable emotional punch of a ballad. A quiet, plaintive request, a spoken prayer, an acknowledgement of something precious. The narrator begs an unseen presence to speak to them ‘in a language that I can understand’ because they know that presence is there, somewhere: “I’m listening, I hear you, your sound.” This felt immediately like a questing hand reaching out for someone whose spirit they yearned to communicate with. Perhaps it is speaking to “Fletch.” It is relatable, universal and simply beautiful. I work as a ghost tour guide and public lecturer on the paranormal and I can’t tell you how many times people have come up to say how much they just want to talk to a recently passed loved one again. This song felt like that hope. Perhaps it can step in to speak for those who need such words themselves. Over four decades of Depeche Mode lyrics tend to explore the complexities of communication and this time it’s across the veil.

A life’s journey scored by Depeche Mode has felt like a questing, reaching, sometimes digging, dancing, dredging, often bloodied, cyclically cynical and ultimately transcendent journey towards the next step; always moving forward. Until we’re all ghosts again.