“Can it not be written?”
“It needs to be spoken.”
“Wagging Tongue” from Depeche Mode’s Memento Mori is an exquisite dirge about the perils of the rumour mill. the song is layered with luminescent New Wave synths, reverberating with the nostalgia of the band’s foundational style, brimming with ethereal ambiance. It’s a mesmerising amalgamation of sombre lyricism and sonic shimmer, underscored with profound emotional depth.
In this track, Dave Gahan’s vocals are imbued with sorrow as he broaches the poignant theme of witnessing “another angel die.” His sombre tonality delivers the lyrics about surmounting smear campaigns – be they literal personal vendettas against someone controversial, the frustrations of the echo chamber, or even a symbolic reference to political inertia over dire issues like firearm safety or the dangers faced by the queer community.
The Sacred Egg/Anton Corbijn-directed video for “Wagging Tongue,” however, examines the communication breakdown of the common man through social media vitriol. It is an absolute masterpiece of performance art. The monochromatic narrative shows a couple in a studio, executed only through written words on a blackboard, and they find themselves walking to a ritual mimicking river baptism. Those standing in line waiting their turn are holding devices, never speaking to each other, only communicating through text.
Half drowning, each pairing furiously executes their argument through the veil of murky river water, their words becoming bullets fired through air bubbles, yet we know they are never truly heard…or heeded. And the cycle continues, as they create more flower centrepieces…presumably for a coffin.
With this poignant clip, the medium of music video still has the power to deeply move us emotionally with a sharp narrative. References to Ingmar Bergman, as with “Ghosts Again”, appear in “Wagging Tongue” as well.
The Memento Mori album marks a new chapter for Depeche Mode’s peerless, evolving legacy. Memento Mori originated early in the pandemic during the chaos of uncertainty and global panic; now the grim title also reflects the sombre reality of a Fletch-less future for the band. The album was produced by James Ford, and Marta Salogni.
Dave Gahan noted that although work on ‘Memento Mori’ started before Fletcher’s death, Fletch did not record any material on the album. “He never got to hear any of it,” the singer told NME, “which is really sad to me because there are songs on this record where I know he’d be like, ‘This is the best thing we’ve had in years.’ I can hear his voice,” he said. “I can also hear him saying, ‘Does every song have to be about death?!’”
“After Fletch’s passing, we decided to continue as we’re sure this is what he would have wanted,” says Martin Gore, “and that has really given the project an extra level of meaning.”
Memento Mori is out now on double vinyl, CD, cassette, and streaming. The band is currently on their Memento Mori tour in support of the group’s 15th studio album, which began on 23 March 2023. This is the first concert tour to not feature keyboardist Andy Fletcher.
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