Can anyone really believe that Depeche Mode has now been around for 32 years? As an artist moves into the twilight of their career – what do they do to remain relevant? What do they do to move the dialogue further?
DM have managed to do that by simply putting out good music and maintaining a vibrant live show with a fascinating catalog of hits to mine through. They have continually built off previous successes with great songwriting and aural architecture.
I recently sat down with the latter half of their discography – basically going from Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993) and running forward through all the albums (except 2001’s un-listenable Exciter). The band have alluded to Songs as a reference point for this album and I can definitely see a correlation. What I can also see is that this is the band’s best output since that album.
The Mode have always walked a fine line between guitar and synth-pop. On Delta Machine that line is walked with excellent – not mixed – results. This album is also quite warm sounding. They’ve taken what has generally been considered a rather cold medium and translated it with some deft songwriting and that golden, chameleon-like voice of Gahan’s.
‘Welcome to My World,’ opens with the appropriate amount of fuzz and treble while Gahan coos ‘if you stay awhile/I’ll penetrate into your soul…and ride your broken wings…’ knowing full well that the ‘devil has packed up and left this town…’ Yes, we’ve returned to the land of ‘Personal Jesus,’ and can once again question ‘The Policy of Truth.’
Maintaining a fevered pitch is key to a successful album and the band does so in spades by following with the gospel-blues banger that follows. ‘Angel,’ finds Gahan in even grittier form as he growls ‘confused and contented/I slithered around/reveal is beyond me/I was lost/I was found…’ Gore shoot off blasts of feedback amidst a sparse drum track before opening up in a glorious chorus that is awash in noise before another breakdown brings back some of their best early 80’s beats. The swagger continues with more blasts of synthetic beats. ‘Like a preacher on Sunday/my heart was to weak…I found the peace I’ve been searching for…oh let me sleep, forever more…’
This gives way to the albums first single – a song decidedly focused on a strong Gahan vocal. Again a sparse beat holds the track on course while Gore adds layers, backing vocals and a 50’s style guitar part that really adds depth before the track closes out awashed in a recycled feedback loop. Definitely some fun stuff for the ears.
‘Secret to the End,’ tackles some of the deeper tones previously visited on tracks like ‘Miles Away/The Truth Is’ from Sounds of the Universe or ‘Lillian’ on Playing the Angel. My favorite line of the track, ‘the final chapter in the contract expires soon/we’ve come to the end,’ is a brilliant turn of phrase and would be expected to turn up in a Depeche Mode tune.
‘My Little Universe,’ is another track that surrounds itself around the vocal. While most of Delta Machine focuses on bridging the gap between austere and robust, I find this track wanting. It’s a track destined for remixes but as a studio track on the album, never really finds its place.
‘Slow’ is a smoldering, passionate piece that gets about as far into the Delta as possible. I mean, we’re talking right up beside the Mississippi on this one. ‘I don’t need a race in my bed/when speed’s in my heart/and speed’s in my head/instead…’
‘Slow’ is followed by one of the two big Depeche Mode ballads in ‘Broken.’ It’s almost a paint-by-the-numbers DM song. ‘There’s a place where I go/you can’t hear a sound/only you can reach me/only you’re allowed…’ It’s almost shocking these exact lyrics haven’t ended up in a previous tune by these guys. This is the weaker of the two as it never fully reaches ‘arena-sounding,’ potential.
‘The Child Inside,’ is another Martin Gore-taking-lead vocals tune. ‘One Caress’ is probably the only Gore-led ‘latter-half-of-the-career,’ vocal I can stomach – and even that one…the mood has to be right.
‘Soft Touch/Raw Nerve,’ is as close to base instinct as the band has ever been. It reminds me of ‘Something to Do’ off of 1984’s Some Great Reward. Its very nature is punk in its essence – a very simple vocal and simple beat. Gore makes it soar with a guitar riff and Fletcher backs it up with his own flourishes.
Gahan and Gore share vocals on ‘Should Be Higher’ another driving track. ‘Oh stop/all your crying/this one you’ll lose….don’t be afraid/you just have to pray.’ Classic Mode synth-pop at its finest, foreboding hour.
The second ballad, ‘Alone’ reminds me of William Orbit’s production on Madonna’s Ray of Light album. I’m leaning toward the sound of the ‘Frozen,’ single. It’s kept in check by Gore, Fletcher and Ben Hillier’s production, but it definitely feels familiar. This track will play well along with other arena favorites like ‘Home’ and ‘Precious.’
‘Soothe My Soul,’ is the second single from the album and wouldn’t have been out of place on the soundtrack for what’s quickly become a cult classic film in 2011’s Drive. It’s a night driving track at it’s core and oozes black-and-white scenery as evoked in the video for it (below).
The album closes with a track that Gore describes as a Beatles-esque track from the band. It’s entitled ‘Goodbye’ and there’s an ‘I Feel You,’ like guitar-line that powers the cut. It’s a fitting closer with another strong vocal performance from Gahan. While there is an airy feedback and looseness to the utterance of the word ‘Goodbye,’ – it envelops the tone of the entire album. Which again – is synth-pop successfully mining the blues. The band’s continued success at picking the meat off the bones of love is better than any crow I know…
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