If fans thought Depeche Mode steered a little off course on their 1997 album, ‘Ultra,’ their 10th album, 2001’s ‘Exciter,’ proved that there was a lot more damage that could be done to the band’s dwindling reputation. Not to mention their sales figures. ‘Ultra’ was the follow-up to 1993’s ‘Songs of Faith and Devotion,’ the synth-pop pioneers’ only No. 1 album. But the four-year break between the records turned out to be hellish. The band not only lost a member, it also almost lost its singer to a crippling drug habit.

But somehow Depeche Mode pulled themselves together, got clean and went on tour in support of ‘Ultra.’ Then they just disappeared. When ‘Exciter’ was released on May 14, 2001, the trio sounded worn, tired and beaten down from their regrouping four years earlier. Why did they bother? Good question. Contrary to the record’s title, there’s not much to get excited about here.

Working with Mark Bell, a member of the British electronic band LFO and producer of several of Björk’s albums, the band hoped to inject deeper and tougher house elements into their music. And for a few songs, the pairing works. Tracks like ‘Dream On,’ ‘Freelove’ and ‘I Feel Love,’ while not up to Depeche Mode-classic standards, sounded close enough to some of the band’s better recent records. But at almost an hour in length, ‘Exciter’ can’t keep up the pace.

Fans must have sensed the strain – especially British fans. ‘Exciter,’ which debuted at No. 8, is the only Depeche Mode album to chart higher in the U.S. than in the U.K. The album eventually went gold (the massive world tour that followed the LP’s release probably helped), even though most of its singles bombed (only ‘Dream On’ cracked the Top 100, stalling at No. 85). Since then, Depeche Mode have regrouped every four years for another album; the most recent – ‘Delta Machine’ – is their most vibrant since the ‘90s. ‘Exciter,’ for the most part, grasps for life.

Listen to Depeche Mode's 'Exciter'