A new Depeche Mode album is upon us! Time to get very excited. For a new Mode album is a very special thing indeed, chock full of fascinating new songs with intriguing lyrics and harsh aural experimentation.
At least, they used to be. DM albums have sadly, in recent years, become considerably less exciting. You’ve always needed to take a bit of time to get used to them, to let them bed in, and their recent albums are no exception to this. But whereas they used to grow into something glorious, the last couple seem to have failed on this front.
This new album is, we are told, the last in a trilogy of recordings produced by Ben Hillier, so let’s regard them as such. Playing the Angel (2005) was the first, and was largely excellent, flanked by great singles such as Precious and John the Revelator, and also hiding excellent album tracks including Nothing’s Impossible and The Darkest Star. Then came Sounds of the Universe (2009), with more excellent singles in the shape of Wrong, Peace and Perfect. Unfortunately, the album tracks were less exciting this time around, leaving an album that was acceptable at best.
Which brings us to the oddly named Delta Machine, their latest album. From the very start, it’s clearly much more experimental than anything they’ve done in recent years. Welcome to My World is the opening track, kicking off with some crunchy electronic noises, and building into a pleasant but relatively standard Depeche Mode track.
Second track Angel still falls entirely as flat as it did six months or so earlier when it was anonymously unveiled as the first taster for the album. The drums are interesting, and the vocal is powerful, but there just isn’t a lot of melody. Delta Machine does, sadly, seem to be lacking some of the songwriting which made its predecessors so great.
The third track and opening single Heaven is far and away the best track on the album. You do have to ditch your preconceptions about what Depeche Mode “ought” to sound like, but if you accept it as it is, you will hear something rather beautiful and powerful, a song which belongs up there among DM’s finest moments.
It does herald the coming of a rather long and dull middle section though – Dave Gahan‘s Secret to the End is, despite an exceptional vocal performance from Gahan, rather unsatisfactory, perhaps because of the slightly daft backing vocals from Martin L. Gore. Then none of My Little Universe, Slow and Broken really grab you as a listener in the way you feel you ought to be grabbed by a Depeche Mode album. All are strong – particularly Broken – but all seem to let themselves down in some way.
Then right in the middle, there’s a trio of classic Mode songs, every bit as great as they should be. The Child Inside is, as is often the case with Martin L. Gore vocals, poetic and dreamy, and the brilliantly named Soft Touch/Raw Nerve doesn’t disappoint. And the third single Should Be Higher is another classic Mode track.
But there are elements of Delta Machine which fall completely flat for me. Alone is good, but nothing special, and the gospel-style backing vocals on Soothe My Soul really bring down what is otherwise a good track. So when Goodbye finally turns up to close the album I can’t help but feel a little disappointed by the whole thing.
Don’t get me wrong, Delta Machine is far from a bad album, but there does seem to be a bit of a pattern with Depeche Mode in recent years where each release is slightly less good than its predecessor. The next album won’t be for a few more years, but let’s hope it bucks the trend.
There’s a nice hardback version of the album which comes with a second disc, including what would have been another of the best tracks on the album if they had included it, Happens All the Time. Unfortunately, in another slightly misguided moment, it was allowed to slip off the main album and onto the bonus CD.
You can still find the limited edition version of Delta Machine through all the regular retailers, including via this link at Amazon.co.uk.