I like Dead Hearts Club. There’s something uniquely earnest about its unabashed love affair with Depeche Mode, something that strikes me as charming and genuine. It’s a flagrantly, obscenely odd record that refuses to adhere to even the slightest hint of pop accessibility, but therein lies its appeal.
Granted, I don’t love Dead Hearts Club. Its aforementioned rejection of pop hooks can turn the listening experience into something of a chore, and Daniel Keating’s vocals, perpetually positioned at the forefront, can become grating after long periods of exposure. Keating is clearly a creative, talented individual—in addition to serving as Dr. Woman’s’ sole full-time contributor, he also fronts underrated post-punk band Brine—but nothing about Dead Hearts Club distinguishes it as a must-listen by any metric.
Though there’s nothing inherently wrong with proudly bearing one’s influences, an artist taking this approach runs the risk of simply sounding like an inferior version of an established artist. In large part, Dr. Woman snags its feet in this very trap; Dead Hearts Club is a decent, perfectly respectable record, but it almost unequivocally fails to rise above or distinguish itself from its objectively superior predecessors. It’s an enjoyable listen for the most part, but I have trouble justifying spending much time with the new Dr. Woman record when I could instead be listening to Black Celebration or Music for the Masses. There are some noteworthy moments— “Parameters” and “The Death of Magic” are both excellent tracks that benefit from effective samples—but the record as a whole isn’t good or original enough to demand more than a spin or two.
Dead Hearts Club is a slightly weirder, considerably less catchy Depeche Mode album. It’s certainly worth a listen for new wave fans, especially considering the talent and passion that Daniel Keating clearly possesses, but it’s too derivative and simply not engaging enough to warrant any greater endorsement.