Review Summary: 'Just another Depeche Mode album'? No.
Ask any Depeche Mode fan to name their favourite Mode album, and you'll be sure to receive a variety of responses. Violator
, Songs of Faith and Devotion
, Black Celebration
, Music For The Masses
... the overarching consensus, however, will be that the Basildon Boys' strongest period was the late 80s/early 90s era. As it happens, this was the time that Alan Wilder came to the fore as the ostensible mastermind behind the production of Mode records; the man who took Gore's lugubrious and naive ditties and forged them into something darkly appealing for misunderstood teenagers everywhere. But then he left the band, and although reviewers quickly scrambled to praise the first album without him (the excellent Ultra
) it was clear, over the next decade, that the spectre of Wilder still loomed large. Subsequent albums were said to lack that vital Depeche Mode 'spark'; many devoted fans seemed convinced that only his return to the fold could restore the band to their former glory.
Enter Delta Machine
. The title itself is a reference to what they were working towards, namely blues-tinged electronic torch songs. This is at its most obvious on songs like 'Angel'
, a plodding, ominous thumper that suddenly races into a menacing rant, Dave Gahan's hilariously over-the-top vocals growling over a twanging riff and hard, edgy electronic effects. Guitars are used a little less subtly to emphasise the bluesy vibe on 'Slow'
(a lost song written during the days of SOFAD), but you can forgive the cliche when you hear how spectacularly worn, dirty and world-weary the track sounds. They're singing about sex, of course, and it adds a vital pinch of sleaze to the album that was missing off the airy Exciter
and the static Sounds of the Universe
. Although, if you're just waiting for another creepy effort sang by that weirdo Martin Gore, look no further than 'The Child Inside'
, a lounge song that plaintively dwells on body parts and graveyards.
Of course, the other vital element to any good Depeche Mode album is a few dark, pulsing electro anthems, and they're here in the form of 'Secret To The End'
and 'Should Be Higher'
, both penned by Gahan. The former is an urgent, passionate song that rises above its clunky lyrics to develop into a future Depeche classic, while the latter is possibly the best song on this high quality album, with truly icy
synth stabs scuttling around a pounding beat and Dave's almost demented falsetto on the chorus. 'My Little Universe'
is more experimental, Dave's restrained vocals set against a backdrop of sparse bleeps, clicks and shimmers, all nestled amongst lyrics that a Biophilia
-era Bjork would be proud of. And, remembering that in their hearts, Depeche are great pop songwriters, they chuck out a couple of catchy throwaways, the strangely flaccid 'Soft Touch/Raw Nerve'
and the unashamedly camp, goth/blues stomper, 'Soothe My Soul'
, complete with awful lyrics and a chorus that's so incredibly catchy it comes very close to irritating.
Perhaps the best thing about Delta Machine
is that, unlike many previous efforts, it's completely coherent. The whole thing melds together very nicely indeed; the songs are strong, the production is stellar, the blues theme is explored playfully but never overdone, and the songs are rich in layers that reveal themselves after repeated listens. The album from start to finish is soaked in atmosphere; the ballad and lead single 'Heaven'
out of the speakers, and 'Welcome To My World'
and the ominously-titled 'Goodbye'
bookend the album very neatly. After 33 years, it's incredible to be able to say that Delta Machine
is easily one of the best albums Depeche Mode have ever released, worthy of mention in the same breath as the classics, confident in its own skin and by turns experimental, assured, consistent and remarkably memorable. Alan who?