Depeche Mode



by Kaleid USER (44 Reviews)
December 16th, 2006 | 52 replies

Release Date: 1997 | Tracklist

Review Summary: 'Rock casualties' rise from the ashes, and come back with a grindingly murky album, doing away with the additives and getting back to the raw basics

After Depeche Mode had reached their commercial peak with Violator and Songs Of Faith And Devotion, their individual worlds fell apart and the walls came tumbling in. For it was around this time, in the mid-90's, that vulnerable personalities started to crumble, addictions reached climatic heights, and long-held tensions finally broke through the surface. Basically, as a band, they were finished. It was a miracle lead singer Dave Gahan was alive at all, having OD'd on heroin and suffered a mini-heart attack on stage. But regrouping again in 1996, the Mode displayed their uncanny ability to weather all storms and hit back with Ultra in 1997. Alan Wilder had left, ostensibly because of a consistent imbalance in the workload, and his absence is immediately noticeable; not in a good OR a bad way, it's just different, right down to the desolate, minimal, pared-down sound.

'Barrel Of A Gun' is hard, cold, bleak, and still sounds like nothing they have done before. It's a sharp start to the album, which is why 'The Love Thieves' is so disappointing. Moody enough, this track nevertheless goes on for far too long. Fortunately, this is as bad as the album gets, really. 'Home' is a beautiful, affecting, string-laden number, with Gore's best vocal of all - Depeche Mode's greatest ballad ever. The tempo is moved up a notch with 'It's No Good', a more mainstream affair, though it still sounds subversive when placed next to most mainstream music (DM's greatest strength). My favourite-ever DM song, it's a dancey, bouncy little number, with slightly conceited lyrics relating to unrequited love, and it ends with some of the coolest electronic bass effects you will ever hear, and is followed by a similarly electro-led instrumental, 'Uselink', which uses a System 700 to great effect.

'Useless' brings back the guitars from 'Barrel Of A Gun' and grooves to create what can only be described as a 'dirty' song - that is, it sounds muddy, hard, lived-in - and contains some of the best lyrics on the album, "All your stupid ideals/You've got your head in the clouds/You should see how it feels/With your feet on the ground", Gore again showing us how to rhyme without ever letting it sound forced. But the recurring pattern in Mode albums of falling away in the second half rears its ugly head again. 'Sister Of Night' - the only song Dave has sang while high - is dark and has a pretty enough melody, but is as forgettable as the instrumental that follows it. 'Freestate' is yet another slow, moody track, but has a country twang to it that just about saves it. This vague country feeling is carried over to 'The Bottom Line', an old-fashioned song that includes some lovely lyrics and hints at moods explored on the next album Exciter. Unfortunately, a glance back at the beginning of the album reminds you that they can do so much better.

Which it why I'm happy to say that another recurring pattern in Mode albums is to finish with a strong track, and Ultra is no exception. 'Insight' is a brooding track that rises in passion and fire as it progresses, bringing a bit of warmth to this icy album. It gets your pulse going again, and stands as a reason to hear this odd album all the way through. The literal 'final' track, 'Junior Painkiller', is an Asian-style instrumental that is neither here nor there.

Of course, this album is flawed. But this is also the album that never should have been. To create any album after what the remaining members had been through was a remarkable achievement. To create one that is of pretty high quality (for the most part) is near miraculous. Ultra is not an album to listen to when you need cheering up. But if you're a serious music fan, it shouldn't depress you either. This is a pensive album that sounds reflective, even spiritual, and would be good to listen to when "you want to be alone". But the holes in the fabric stop it from achieving classic status.

Recent reviews by this author
Depeche Mode SpiritDepeche Mode Delta Machine
Various Artists For The MassesJapan Tin Drum
Depeche Mode Sounds Of The UniverseGrace Jones Hurricane
user ratings (439)
other reviews of this album
Tom93M (3)
That this album exists at all is an impressive feat, after all the obstacles that came Depeche Mode'...

Comments:Add a Comment 
December 22nd 2006


Album Rating: 3.0

Home is one of my favourite DM tracks. I'm really fond of Martin L. Gore's singing in almost all of his tracks but especially this one. Worth mentioning from this record too is It's No Good.

Good review!

May 27th 2008


Album Rating: 4.5

The Love Thieves is a great song you fool! Good review otherwise

October 6th 2008


Album Rating: 4.0

A 3.5 is a bit less for this album. Ultra is deeply flawed, but thats the charm to it! I love its darkness, and this was the album that got me into DM to begin with. My buddy told me to get this since Im a big trip-hop fan and was curious to get into DM and see what they were about. Needless to say, Ive been hooked ever since.

And Home is just about the best DM song ever, and that track alone gives this an album rating of 4 from me!

May 15th 2010


Album Rating: 3.5

Glad to see I'm not the only one who thinks "Home" is one of Depeche Modes best. Throw in Barrel of a Gun, It's no good, and useless and this is a sweet disc.

January 24th 2011


Really glad I came back to this, it sounds better than before.

Digging: Bury Tomorrow - Black Flame

June 3rd 2011


"Home" and "It's No Good" are awesome tracks. Saw them live in the summer of 2009, excellent show

July 21st 2011


Album Rating: 3.5

It took me such a long time to fully appreciate this record. 1997 was the year i got into Depeche Mode, "Barrel Of A Gun" being the first song i ever heard by the band. I think the problem was that Barrel was such a dark and desolate track which was the kind of thing i was into at age 14, that when i heard the album as a whole, it left me quite bored to be honest. Too many soft and slow ballads, not enough hard electro crunchiness like Barrel Of A Gun had promised. But as i've matured over the years, i've come to realise what a fine record Ultra really is, from the shimmering beauty of "Love Thieves" and "Home" to the country-tingued croon of "Freestate". The album's closer, "Insight" is an absolute stormer, incredibly uplifting. The only thing that stops Ultra from getting anywhere near Violator or Songs Of Faith & Devotion is the lack of memorable hook-laden tunes like Enjoy The Silence or Policy Of Truth, its just not that kind of album.

August 8th 2011


Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Cool record. My favourite songs here are Home and specially It's No Good.

Digging: Marduk - Viktoria

August 8th 2011


this is the only post-MFTM DM album that i haven't heard. maybe i'll get around to fixing that someday.

haven't listened to any of this band's stuff in quite a while.

August 8th 2011


Album Rating: 3.5 | Sound Off

Ultra was one of the best 97's releases. If you like DM you should like this one.

January 4th 2012


Album Rating: 3.5

i love this era from depeche mode they were much darker and much introspective than all the previous releases

March 15th 2013


Notrap, I wasn't sure if you listened to Depeche Mode. You're definitely one of the most knowledgeable users on this site.

July 6th 2013


Album Rating: 4.0

I think this record has two faces. For me only SOFAD and PTA have more strong songs than Ultra but the second half is more than incoherent with "Insight" as the only classic. Besides that i think that "Barrel of a Gun", "Home", "It's no good" and "Useless" are pure gold. If the other songs would've been of that quality Ultra would be THE ultimate Mode-Album.

July 6th 2013


Album Rating: 3.5

is good

October 31st 2015


Album Rating: 4.0

Really fine album, love it.

January 25th 2016


Album Rating: 4.0

I'll never stop fanboying over Black Celebration but this album flows so well too, not a single weak moment imo, even the interludes are great. The Love Thieves, Home, Useless and Sister of Night are so good.

January 26th 2016


Album Rating: 4.0

Freestate is great too.

January 26th 2016


Album Rating: 4.0

Everything is great, I think I'll raise a few ratings after finishing to rate the discography and this will probably be one of them.

January 26th 2016


Album Rating: 4.0

Right on Sab the man!

January 26th 2016


Album Rating: 4.0

Man this is still at page number 1 after years.

You have to be logged in to post a comment. Login | Create a Profile


Bands: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Site Copyright 2005-2017
All Album Reviews Displayed With Permission of Authors | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy