Depeche Mode – Sounds of the Universe (Bonus Tracks & Remixes)

Depeche Mode don’t release a lot of b-sides, and when they do, they are a little intriguing. On the back of their 2009 comeback single Wrong, they included the jaunty and intriguing Oh Well, and then proceeded to follow it up with a whole album of b-sides and remixes as the second disc of Sounds of the Universe. It appeared ten years ago this week, and we reviewed the first disc exactly five years ago this week.

It opens with Light, which is pretty good. Definitely b-side material, but good nonetheless. It’s a catchy song, but I don’t think anyone would argue that it should have been on an album. The Sun and the Moon and the Stars is nice, though, and sees principle songwriter Martin L. Gore delivering the lead vocal. In many ways, with the bleak electro backing, it sounds like something from his solo back catalogue, and again, I’m not sure it’s really Depeche Mode album material, but it’s a nice song, and it’s always good to get another Gore vocal.

This was, of course, the era when Dave Gahan, coming back from his solo material, was now able to contribute to the songwriting progress as well. So, having contributed three tracks to the main album (Hole to Feed, Come Back, and Miles Away / The Truth Is), there wasn’t quite as much space for Gore’s material. So most of what’s on the second disc is his, and normally with a Gahan vocal.

Ghost is another of these, with a catchy vocal and some wonderfully dark electronic backing. You can tell the quality is high here though – again, while Sounds of the Universe is far from Depeche Mode‘s finest hour, the standard is actually pretty high – and Ghost isn’t quite up there.

But we do get a decent range of Depeche Mode‘s signature sounds here – and one of the less well known of those is Martin L. Gore‘s abstract instrumentals, of which Esque is one. Running at just over two minutes, it’s a pleasant interlude, which tends to be pretty much all they’re ever used for, but it’s a good example of the style.

Let’s face it, though – Oh Well is the reason you’re interested in this bonus disc. Frankly, why this wasn’t on the main album is a bit of a mystery to me – maybe they just didn’t quite feel it fit somehow. This is, though, the first ever songwriting collaboration between Dave Gahan and Martin L. Gore, and it also features a joint vocal from the two of them, alongside some gloriously dirty electronics. It’s brilliant – better, actually, than several of the tracks on the main release.

That’s it for the bonus tracks – the remaining tracks are all remixes, and of an odd selection of tracks. First up, Efdemin turn up for a dubby (but full-vocal) mix of Corrupt. It’s alright, but Depeche Mode remixes are often pretty inscrutable, and this is a good example of that. It’s fairly relaxed, fully of soft beats and vocal samples, and not a huge amount else.

Minilogue‘s Earth mix of In Chains is easier to understand, reworking the opening track from the main album. While it was reasonable as an opening track, it isn’t the best source material that Depeche Mode have ever provided, but this turns out to be a spacey house mix, with huge amounts of reverb and some more dub influence on the vocals, but it bounces along pleasantly for eight minutes or so.

But while some of their remixes may be particularly challenging, others do hit their mark, and you can trust The Orb‘s Thomas Fehlmann to be the first to do that here, with his excellent Flowing Ambient Mix of Little Soul. It retains large chunks of the original, but adds a huge throbbing synth line that just chugs along gently for nine and a half minutes. It’s pure brilliance, of a sort that only seems to happen once in a while with Depeche Mode‘s remixes.

The remaining remixes are good, but don’t really break new ground. SixToes‘ somewhat anarchic string version of Jezebel is enjoyable, and it’s definitely an odd definition of the “remix”, as it’s difficult to figure out exactly who would play this and where, but it’s also very pleasant. Electronic Periodic‘s Dark Drone Mix of Perfect is an odd combination of electro and house, but works well too.

Finally, Caspa turns up to rework lead single Wrong. This is a pretty good glitchy version, although probably not quite up to the standard of some of the versions on the single, such as Trentemøller‘s take. But it closes out a decent collection in appropriate fashion – there’s not much special here, but there’s nothing really bad either.

All in all, the bonus tracks and remixes from Sounds of the Universe are pretty good. There were some better remixes spread across the singles, but this isn’t a bad collection. Both the bonus tracks and the remixes have plenty of sounds from Depeche Mode‘s universe (excuse the pun) to offer, and so it’s definitely worth hearing. Above all, this is where you can find Oh Well.

You can find all of these tracks on Sounds of the Universe (Deluxe), which is still available from major retailers, including the original album and also the demos, which we reviewed previously here.

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Chart for stowaways – 30 June 2018

This week we have both famous Minogues on the chart together. I don’t think that’s happened before…

  1. The Radiophonic Workshop – Burials in Several Earths
  2. The Human League – Secrets
  3. Sparks – Hippopotamus
  4. The Future Sound of London – My Kingdom (Re-Imagined)
  5. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury
  6. The Orb – No Sounds Are Out Of Bounds
  7. Tracey Thorn – Record
  8. Kylie Minogue – Golden
  9. Dannii Minogue – Neon Nights
  10. Jon Hopkins – Singularity

Preview – The Orb

Honestly, I haven’t really been paying a lot of attention to The Orb‘s output in the last few years, but they’re absolutely still at it. From the new album No Sounds Are Out Of Bounds, here’s the lovely Rush Hill Road:

Peel Sessions – The Orb, 3 Dec 1989

Trust The Orb to do something very different with their John Peel session. You normally get about fifteen to twenty minutes of airtime, so most artists record three or four seemingly randomly-selected songs, but of course The Orb recorded just one.

They were still a couple of years away from releasing their debut album The Orb’s Adventures Beyond the Ultraworld, but Peel had already been playing them for the previous six months or so. This was also released as a single both a couple of months before the session and again afterwards.

You would have to be something of an Orb completist to spot exactly what’s different here, but it sounds fantastic. I didn’t remember some of the vocal samples towards the end in the original, but it’s hard to remember specific parts. I also love the fact that I learned while listening to it, that it actually gets its title from a Blake’s 7 sound effects track. Genius. Well, that and the inclusion of Minnie Riperton‘s wonderfully twee Lovin’ You. This really is about as good as music gets.

Subsequent years would see another four Peel sessions for The Orb, mostly released variously on Peel Sessions (1991) and The Peel Sessions (1996), neither of which are currently available. This particular session also opens disc 3 of the special edition of the first album. You can read more about their relationship with the John Peel show here.

The Orb – Orblivion

The Orb are always a little bit odd – it probably goes without saying – and “odd” is definitely a good term to describe their fifth album Orblivion, released in 1997. Six years on from their debut, this album actually gave them their first US hit album, and also, with Toxygene, their biggest UK hit. As it celebrates its twentieth birthday, now seems a good time to give it another listen.

It opens with the pleasant Delta Mk II, which ripples along with arpeggios for a very soft and gentle seven minutes, before it mixes almost imperceptibly into the lovely Ubiquity. Whereas preceding releases Pomme Fritz (1994) and Orbus Terrarum (1995) had been downright silly and distinctly earthbound (respectively), Orblivion saw a return to the obscure science fiction-based aural adventure of earlier releases, and this is very audible on the first couple of tracks.

The tracks move so swiftly and smoothly from one to the next that you’re a good way through the album before you know it. Second single Asylum passes by with a friendly nod, and then the bouncier Bedouin arrives, full of dub reverb and otherworldly vocal samples. Molten Love brings a tribal rhythm and some overwhelming chimes, along with some gentle pads, and of course the normal array of entirely bizarre vocal samples.

After the short piece Pi comes the longer S.A.L.T., with some Mancunian Satanic readings, apparently borrowed from a Mike Leigh film called Naked. Out of context, as all good samples on The Orb‘s works are, it makes relatively little sense, but makes for an entertaining listen nonetheless. After a brief sea shanty, it mixes into The Orb‘s biggest hit single to date.

Toxygene, it is said, started life as a remix of Jean-Michel Jarre‘s comeback single Oxygène (Part 8), which was rejected because it didn’t actually contain any of the original. This is easy to believe when you hear the mixes that did make it – they’re generally huge dance versions that remain fairly faithful to the piece, and great though The Orb are, that really isn’t why you employ them to remix your single.

But whatever the backstory, Toxygene is great, and is entirely deserving of its place as the centrepiece of this album. It’s also the only commercial-sounding thing on here, so you can’t help but feel it was probably a good thing all round that things ended up the way they did. For pretty much the only time in their career, The Orb deliver a huge synth-driven hit single, and it’s absolutely fantastic.

Then it’s back to the slightly loopy samples with the short Log of Deadwood, and then the longer Secrets, and then Passing of Time opens with another crazy sample, I’m guessing from a film (it sounds like a housing advert from the 1950s, until the nice man tells us “the rocket is waiting”). The resulting track is laden with grimy synths, but as with much of this album, is lacking a little in melody.

72 is just a short sample, with a hidden track a few minutes later, and then Orblivion draws to an end. For me, it’s not as good as subsequent album Cydonia, but it does have Toxygene, which is a pretty good reason to track it down – as a minimum everything else on here is a bonus, and you might even find something you like in amongst the rest.

You can still find the two-disc special edition of Orblivion at major retailers.

Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise

Barely six months after the release of Jean-Michel Jarre‘s first Electronica album, he was already back with the second volume. This time, of course, we start with certain expectations after the first, and it’s not a disappointment.

The second volume begins with the gloriously atmospheric The Heart of Noise (Part 1), a duet with the French electronic musician Rone, who I hadn’t heard of before, but who seems to have brought a lot of additional atmosphere to this piece. It steps naturally into Part 2, which curiously for a collaboration album features Jarre collaborating with himself.

You must have realised by now that I’m a pretty big fan of Pet Shop Boys, so it should come as little surprise that I was excited about Brick England, but it does seem a typical act of irony for the duo that what’s clearly their best song in a number of years didn’t actually make it onto their latest album, released just weeks before this one. But Brick England is just so good. If there were any justice, this would have been number one for weeks. It wasn’t even a single – actually, Jarre seems to have lost interest in this album as soon as it was released and gone onto recording Oxygène 3 instead.

Julia Holter turns up next for the sparkling These Creatures, and then the one track that I don’t understand, As One with Primal Scream. It seems clear that they didn’t bother turning up for this, so Jarre has collaborated with them in much the same way as rappers collaborate with bald annoying drummers – by taking their song and recording another one over the top. The results aren’t bad, but surely Jarre could have done better?

Some of the legends here are every bit as legendary as Jarre himself, and Gary Numan is surely one of the closest, and although I haven’t really felt he’s lived up to his status in the last couple of decades, it’s hard not to have a degree of respect for him. Here for You is good though – possibly even one of the better tracks on here.

Without the list of collaborators, it’s often hard to know exactly what’s going on, so the gentle Electrees (with Hans Zimmer) fades into the more violent Exit, largely a solo Jarre work until Edward Snowden suddenly appears out of nowhere to talk about privacy for some reason.

Next it’s the turn of Canadian singer Peaches, who confused me briefly when I wondered why I’d only vaguely heard of her, until I realised she’s basically never had a hit in the UK. What You Want is pretty good though, although perhaps not quite as good as Gisele, with the flamboyant French singer Sébastien Tellier.

Switch on Leon sees Jarre appropriately working with The Orb to express their deep love of synthesizers and electronic music, but ultimately here is little more than an interlude which continues with the pleasant and bumpy Circus, with Siriusmo.

The brilliant Yello turn up for Why This, Why That and Why, a strangely compelling track which, like Brick England, blows their own 2016 album Toy out of the water. It’s an odd one, but it’s definitely one of the best tracks on here.

Prolific experimental musician Jeff Mills is next, with The Architect, a pleasant instrumental before the brilliant Swipe to the Right, with Cyndi Lauper, definitely one of the best pop tracks that Jarre has ever been involved with. Then another French legend Christophe appears to deliver Walking the Mile, a pleasant pop song.

Right at the end are a couple of surprises – Jarre collaborates with himself again and delivers his own vocal on another great pop song, Falling Down, and then it closes with the track that started the whole project, The Heart of Noise (The Origin).

Ultimately both halves of the Electronica project are great albums, but I’d dare to suggest that The Heart of Noise is actually slightly better than The Time Machine. Needless to say, both albums are well worth a listen, and ideally a purchase, and hopefully, one day, even a follow-up.

You can still find volume 2 of Electronica at all major retailers.