Depeche Mode
Sounds Of The Universe



by Stephen Gore USER (43 Reviews)
April 13th, 2009 | 24 replies

Release Date: 2009 | Tracklist

Review Summary: After a 28 year relationship, Depeche Mode have dumped doom and gloom. But they’ve kept the handcuffs.

Depeche Mode are a strange trio. Any other band older than CDs and still making music in 2009 would be happy to bask in the warm glow of ‘veteran’ status cautiously bestowed upon them by the world’s media (excepting the UK press, of course). They have the hits, the hysterically devoted fan base, the drug stories, the redemption. They can still sell out stadiums. Martin’s stopped dressing like a woman. Now to take the comfortable route everyone else does; release safe, inoffensive albums that scrape into the top twenty and are guaranteed to get the webzines waxing lyrical about ‘a new maturity’ or ‘return to form’ and award them 6 out of 10. Right?

Wrong. Sounds Of The Universe is the most optimistic, uplifting album Depeche have ever released. Considering the group’s mid-eighties goth leanings, and the cynical media cliche ’Depressed Mode’, that’s quite a point of note for a band about to celebrate thirty years of minor key majesty. It also risks alienating those insufferably miserable, long-term devotees who are quite happy to take their Mode black, thanks, with no sugar. Happily, Depeche haven’t turned into the Beach Boys overnight; rather, they’ve simply lightened up. Just a little bit. The melodies keep a tense foundation, but are allowed to soar. The tempos are still flexible, but are allowed to go over 40 bpm for once. The synths still bleep, wurp and clank in all the right places, but carry melodies rather than form them.

Speaking of synths, this is a heavily electronic album, even by DM’s standards. With all members of the band clean and sober for years now, the only addict is main songwriter Martin Gore, who suffered greatly from an e-Bay addiction while making SOTU and spent huge amounts of money getting his pervy little kicks from ancient drum machines and vintage analogue synthesisers, all of which found their way onto the album. Opener ‘In Chains’ showcases all their new toys; a strange, multi-layered introductory drone of a full synthetic orchestra tuning up, complete with radio squeals, static buzzes and analogue whirrs that eventually melt into washes of synthetic shimmers that float around Dave Gahan’s crooning vocals. Industrial-tinted lead single ‘Wrong’ is an electronic horror anthem in the making (particularly the “WRONG!“ soundbite currently making its memetic way across the internet) yet still displays the black humour so often missed in the band by reminding you of a teenage rant against the injustices of the world. Guitars are still present, but appear to be an afterthought, being used only occasionally to add extra meat to a chorus (the catchy ’Fragile Tension’) or to enhance a bluesy vibe (the excellent slide guitar on ’Miles Away/The Truth Is’).

The most startling song here is ’Peace’, which appears to be the spawn of a fantastic, divinely-inspired electronic hymn and an Erasure b-side. Amazingly, it almost works, although fans that can still hear the echoes of past misanthropic lyrics might baulk at ”I’m leaving bitterness behind/This time I’m cleaning up my mind”, and if that doesn’t get ‘em, the sound of Dave suddenly jumping up two octaves will. The phrase “love it or hate it” rings true here. Elsewhere, ’Perfect’ has a chorus that is far too fluffy and life-affirming for its own good, resulting in a perfectly nice song that sounds nothing like a Depeche Mode song. Throw in some better lyrics though, a couple of cool clinks, and some competent harmonies, and you get ’In Sympathy’. Cautious optimism, underpinned by a mid-tempo groove and a progressive sense of tension, and pushed along by a glistening guitar makes this little gem the best song on the album.

When push comes to shove though, Depeche Mode can’t bring themselves to go all the way with happiness. It just doesn’t come natural to them. ’Corrupt’ is the closer, a Violator-era track with glam-rock stomps and hums, and some suitably leatherbound lyrics: ”I could corrupt you/It would be easy/Watching you suffer/Girl, it would please me”. Other songs like ’Hole To Feed’ and ‘In Chains’ speak for themselves, and it’s a relief that Depeche haven’t shaken off the ’Master and Servant’ vibe just yet. And for the Gore lovers, there’s token Martin ballad ’Jezebel’, yet another weird, obsessive song that as ever is slightly creepy and sounds like it was sung in a vast hall lit only by one candle.

Whereas Songs Of Faith And Devotion upset some fans by turning up the guitar amps, the warm undercurrents of some tracks on SOTU will really get under the skin of those pretentious fans that listen to Depeche Mode, The Cure, Sisters Of Mercy and absolutely nothing else. Still, misguided as a couple of songs may be, it’s yet another high quality album from Depeche, with a new twist that fans should embrace as a one-off quirk. If such nauseating flashes of positivity are still present on the next record, then they can worry. For now, it’s pleasing to see this album as cutting off some of the doomy tags that Depeche Mode have picked up since 1981, and revealing a revitalised, accessible quality that is far more likely than some recent efforts to win over new fans. Which is quite ironic. After nearly thirty years, Sounds Of The Universe may just turn out to be, truly, music for the masses.

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Comments:Add a Comment 
April 13th 2009


Album Rating: 3.5

Official label stream:

April 13th 2009


Album Rating: 3.5

pretty much a perfect review, better than I would've done at least, but a 4 seems too high

Martin’s stopped dressing like a woman.
this is half true lol

’Depressed Mode’ (also a decent Finnish metal band)
do you really need the "also", it kind of implies Depeche Mode is metalThis Message Edited On 04.13.09

April 13th 2009


Album Rating: 2.5

I was hoping you'd review this. I've only heard bits and pieces, but I didn't really like the happier feel of the album.

Digging: Testament - The Brotherhood of the Snake

April 13th 2009


Album Rating: 3.5

Yes, it's been very divisive, especially going from the comments of some fans. If you've only heard bits, try Corrupt, Little Soul, or Jezebel, they're darker.

Fireabove: well, there's two things there, the cliche and the band, but thanks, maybe it does need rewording

April 13th 2009


Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Ohhhhhh no theres no happiness to this one except for maybe "Peace", but thats about it. This album surprised the crap outta me, and Ive listened to it non-stop since I got it. Its really really good. And I thought they couldnt top Playing The Angel for being so late in their career, and they did.

April 13th 2009


album art rules
review rules
summary rules
haven't heard it yet

April 13th 2009


really terrific review, this band doesn't quit

April 13th 2009


Album Rating: 4.0

Album is pretty great. "Peace", "In Sympathy", and "Corrupt" are the best tracks here. I'd like that b-sides CD if anyone has it.

Digging: Candiria - While They Were Sleeping

April 16th 2009


Album Rating: 3.5

I just realised a few things. Hole To Feed is House of the Rising Sun, there's bits of Across The Universe in Peace, and the album art is a birds-eye view of a game of Ker-plunk. Still great though

April 24th 2009


Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Man the cd is soooo much better than the download I had gotten before the album came out. I mean, I know thats very obvious but it was as if it was another oppurtunity to hear the new album through a fresh pair of ears, if you get what Im saying. This album gets better each listen.

April 25th 2009


Album Rating: 1.0

the worst depeche mode album ever... no song can keep my attention for more than 5 seconds of its cheesy synthesizers and uninspired lyrics. This is definitely not music.This Message Edited On 04.25.09

May 2nd 2009


Album Rating: 4.0

Um yeah it's spoken word poetry ^^ fucking fail

And I'd put this over any of their first 3 records by a mile, and all of their mid-late 90's input as well.

May 3rd 2009


yo manslayer tell me what is music? I is curious.

May 3rd 2009


Wow, review came out of nowhere. Excellent.

May 9th 2009


Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Jezebel is amazing. If anybody gets the chance, check out the bonus disc that came with the super-duper deluxe edition of the album. Theres a good 5 outtakes and a bunch of remixes, and its totally worth the time.

October 21st 2009


Album Rating: 4.0

First time listening to Depeche mode surprisingly. Always guessed I would hate them but found them to be pretty good. Started with Violator loved it now listening to this an so far I like it a lot. Any suggestions on what I should try next?

March 8th 2011


Album Rating: 4.0

Another change direction of sound. Good move from DM to avoid monotonous repetition of albums.

Good but not up to Violator standard.

Songs to listen to: Fragile Tension, In Sympathy, Peace, Perfect, Jezebel.

July 21st 2011


Album Rating: 3.5

They managed to completely blow me away yet again with Wrong, what an amazing track, my anthem for 2009. The rest of the album, while not as inspired or powerful as anything on Playing The Angel, contained some really great tracks, particularly Fragile Tension and In Sympathy, both worthy of the Music For The Masses album. I think they slipped a little bit on this one but for every Exciter is a Playing The Angel, cant wait for 2013.

July 21st 2011


Album Rating: 3.5

cant wait for 2013

Word is, you might not have to wait that long, if certain rumours are to be believed.

October 8th 2012


Album Rating: 3.0

Well, I don't see the "happy" on this album. DM's music and lyrics have always felt sad and tortured since Some Great Reward imo....still great none the less

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