Depeche Mode has done a great job in the past decade carving out a nice little place in pop music that nobody else can quite fill. They’ve gone from a quirky charm in the 80s with songs like “Just Can’t Get Enough” to brooding gothic pop of “Personal Jesus”, “Walking In My Shoes”, and at their darkest, “Barrel Of A Gun”. Ultra was really a turning point because after nearly overdosing and going through rehab, Dave Gahan came back with a vengeance and seemed to have a whole new energy to his voice. Four albums and a decade and a half later, Delta Machine sounds like a band still staying relevant by avoiding trying to be relevant. These guys aren’t teaming up with David Guetta. They don’t have to. They helped invented the synthpop that became the best elements of today’s electronic dance music.
Their latest opens with bass thumps and wubwubs that might make you think you are in for a Skrillex collaboration. But a few seconds in, Gahan’s voice reminds you this is the band you love. With lyrics like “I’ll weep into your eyes”, this song crawls under your skin. “Angel” is a strange new feel for the band, straddling between two beats at once and Gahan’s tortured singing, sounding his angriest possibly ever. Then it launches into a hard industrial rocker before pulling back to its sparse beginning. “Heaven” goes for the slow burn. It has a sad melancholy piano driving it, and the backing vocals by presumably Martin Gore are almost haunted gospel. “Secret To The End” mixes a frenzy of the electronic with guitar and stays in this vibe with the first three songs.
“My Little Universe” starts with a simple electro beat and fizzy keyboard note that reminds me of the intro of an Underworld track. The vocals are gorgeous and the track remains subtle even as elements are added to the mix. “Slow” is about as close as Depeche comes to a blues song. It rides a fuzzy keyboard, twangy guitar and creeps up on you.
“Broken” has one foot in the past, recalling just a taste of “Behind The Wheel” albeit slowed down. Yet it isn’t a repeat at all. The band continually finds new sounds to put in their mixes that haven’t been done yet, so the familiar becomes the future once again. “The Child Inside” is a chance for Gore to shine with his own vocals. Some of the creepiest lyrics are in this one, with “You really should have dug a little deeper there, body parts are starting to appear and scare the child inside away”.
Next is one of my favorites, “Soft Touch/Raw Nerve”. This goes for electronic thump but has a great set of lyrics. It also never kicks in with a true dance-pop beat, which draws you into the lyrics even more. “Should Be Higher” comes next and is another standout. It has a swashbuckling groove and feels like it could have been from the Violator period. There’s also some high notes in this one that are a rarity. “Alone” has a rolling beat, strings, and a wave of synth drums that underscore Gahan’s sad yearning vocals.
“Soothe My Soul” follows next. This one has more than just a hint of “Personal Jesus” and its various remixes at its rhythmic core, yet the verses are similar to “I Feel You”. yet the song has a different life than either of those two. This is the new single and is sure to be the featured song if one of these makes it mainstream. The sexy swaggering grind of the beat makes it irresistible. No band does this sound better than Depeche Mode. The final song of the set, aptly titled “Goodbye”, has a folky bluesy guitar up against a synth beat, that gives way to an industrial pounding drum off in the distance. The thing this band amazes me with is that Gore writes great lines like “I was always looking, looking for someone. Someone to stick my hook in, or pull it out and run”. And then David Gahan sings them with such personal conviction that you would never question to find out that Gore is the writer and not Gahan.
The deluxe edition comes in a very nicely done book style package with photos and lyrics, and the addition of four bonus songs. These are placed on a separate disc, I suppose to assure you that they are not part of the actual album. While they remain in the same vibe, these tracks let the band try a few tricks that step just outside the box of the album. “Long Time Lie” has a quiet creeping melody, and Gore’s backing vocals sound again like creepy gospel. I am not sure if age is giving his voice this added effect, but I like it. “Happens All the Time” has an electro dubsteppy bassline that reminds me of Muse’s “Follow Me” in how it rolls. This is a delicate but detailed track. It doesn’t have a big catchy melody, but the subtle little touches make this track a really good one. “Always” is an ear-grabber with all of the clever effects and sounds that make up its backdrop. The song has a slow churn but each turn gives some subtle surprise. Lastly, “All That’s Mine” brings things back upbeat but still keeps things subdued. Of note here is that the lyrics to three of the four bonus tracks are my David Gahan and co-writer Kurt Uenala. It makes me wonder if Gahan holds his songs back due to lack of confidence, or if the band unanimously liked the others better. Granted “Should Be Higher” and “Secret To the End” are by Gahan and Uenala also. I definitely recommend the deluxe version, as the bonus tracks are every bit as good as other tracks on the album. These aren’t throwaways and should be enjoyed as part of the overall album experience.
So the bottom line, this album feels a bit darker than Sounds of the Universe, but feels like a natural continuing of the type of dark synth pop the band has been creating for a while. There’s no left turns into full on dance music. This is music for adults who were children or teens of the late 80s who still need beautiful brooding music for darker days.
Check out the first videos from this great album:
“Soothe My Soul”
and their entire recent SXSW performance including some of the new songs: