If you’re among the legion of Depeche Mode fans who have felt let down by the inconsistent quality and constantly-changing direction in the sound and approach the band has taken on their last three studio albums, then take notice. Their new album, Delta Machine, is a very enjoyable return to the simple synth-pop formula which made them the revered electronic Gods they are today.
Perhaps a bit ironic that this is 2013, and they’re releasing their thirteenth studio album. All superstitions aside, the number thirteen seems to be their lucky number. Delta Machine, while not quite on par with Violator or SOFAD, is certainly their strongest and most enjoyable album to listen to since those days.
As with the past two Depeche albums, Dave Gahan gets a few opportunities to flex his muscles as songwriter on a handful of tracks, but the bulk of the album’s material stems from Martin Gore’s seemingly endless pool of songs. The good news is that with this album, as with its predecessor, Sounds of the Universe, there is no real obvious distinction between the quality of which songs were written by which songwriter. As with SOTU, Gahan’s songs on Delta Machine are every bit as solid as Gore’s.
The album kicks off with ‘Welcome To My World’, a throbbing and prodding downtempo piece that gradually builds into a lovely droning synth gem similar to Gahan’s ‘Kingdom’ track off his Hourglass solo album. It’s possibly their strongest album opener since ‘I Feel You’. The album’s first single, ‘Heaven’, is very un-Depeche Mode in many ways, but mainly because of the downplayed role of the band’s trademark synthesizers. Musically, ‘Heaven’ is a beautiful, bluesy pop ballad driven by piano and Gore’s ever-so-lightly distorted guitar. There’s hardly a synthesizer to be found. On ‘Heaven’, Gahan’s sincere and soulful vocal delivery is among his most moving to date. This was the track the band chose to be their lead-off single to herald the arrival of their new album. It’s not what one would expect from the world’s greatest synth band, but then again, that’s a big part of what makes Depeche Mode Depeche Mode. They seem to have a history of choosing lead-off singles that don’t always represent the character and feel of the album as a whole. (See ‘Barrel of a Gun’)
It was well documented during the recording of SOTU that Martin Gore spent a small fortune on eBay buying vintage analogue synthesizers to be used on the album. It resulted in SOTU being a very classic-sounding album, but it still seemed that they couldn’t figure out how to turn their distortion pedals off or turn the compression knobs down on many of the songs. Such is not the case on Delta Machine. There are actually MORE vintage synth sounds and less distortion and grunge than on either SOTU or Playing the Angel, which is a good thing if you’re a synth purist like me.
The end result is a Depeche Mode album that sounds crisp & clean, instead of muddy and clouded by the overzealous use of effects.
Other highlights on the album are; ‘Broken’, a track written by Gore, about how misery loves company and that we’re all ‘broken from the start’. Sounds like it could’ve been lifted from one of the Violator sessions. A Gahan highlight is ‘You Should Be Higher’, which features Gahan displaying some rather impressive vocal gymnastics. His voice has never sounded stronger or more solid than he does on this track.
However, the real highlight of the album is the absolutely amazing, ‘Soothe My Soul’. This is quite possibly their strongest candidate for single success since ‘It’s No Good’. It’s a classic Depeche Mode song about a consuming desire to satiate one’s carnal needs. It’s got a driving beat, swirling synths, and a throbbing bassline that just exudes sensuality. Tailor-made for the dance floor, and their first song in a very long time to be able to claim that. Hopefully this will find its way into the hands of some of the hottest remixers & find some success on the charts. This is the Depeche Mode song I’ve been waiting over fifteen years to hear.
Also worth noting is the album’s closer, the aptly-named, ‘Goodbye’. It begins with a simple ‘Personal Jesus’-like blues guitar riff and evolves into a rapturous electro-blues jam with a thundering, reverb-drenched chorus. It’s their most solid album finisher since ‘Clean’ off Violator.
If it seems like there’s been a lot of Violator name-dropping in my review, it’s for a very good reason. I have a theory. One of many reasons why I believe Violator was such a successful album was because of its producer, Flood. While Flood didn’t produce Delta Machine, (Ben Hillier produced it) he did mix the album and was present during much of the recording. I firmly believe that Flood’s presence during those sessions and his masterful touch at the mixing desk is blatantly obvious, and that his influence has imbued the final product…… for the better!
Delta Machine is a fantastic album. It’s not in the same league as Violator, SOFAD or even Ultra. But it does sound like the album which should have followed Ultra. It’s an album that sounds like Depeche Mode trying to do nothing more than be Depeche Mode, and the result is lovely. For once they’re not trying to re-invent the wheel. They’re getting back in touch with their roots and it sounds great. It’s a far better album than the last three they’ve released. It’s an album that really does grow on you and gets better with each listen. Well worth your time to check out and add to your collection.
I give Delta Machine 4 stars out of five.
Welcome back, Depeche Mode. We’ve missed you.
You can buy Delta Machine now at all major online retailers. Check out the links below to listen to snippets of each track & to buy the album.