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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Depeche Mode – Remixes 2: 81-11

However I tackle it, this review is going to be pretty epic. I’ve got three discs to plough through. But that makes it sound like a chore, which this definitely is not, and since Depeche Mode have a new album coming out next week, it makes sense to go back and look at their last release, their second album Remixes 2: 81-11. So strap yourself in, and let’s take a journey through another thirty years of remixes.

The formula is much the same as their first remix album, 2004’s The Remixes 81-04. You get two discs or so of goodies from the past, followed by a disc of new mixes. This time around, the title is a little deceptive, as the earliest track is actually from 1985, but we’ll forgive them that small oversight.

The first track is Bushwacka‘s brilliant take on 2001’s Dream On, turning it into a strangely chilled out house track which bobs along wonderfully for six minutes or so. M83‘s French electro version of Suffer Well (2006) follows, making for an excellent pair of opening tracks. There are also standout versions of In Chains by Tigerskin and Corrupt by Efdemin, but on balance I think the rest of the first disc is less exciting, and it probably is my least favourite of the three.

Until the final trio of tracks. Nestling seductively in between Spirit Feel‘s Anandamidic mix of Walking in My Shoes (2009) and Darren Price‘s brilliant version of 1997 b-side Slowblow is something rather extraordinary. A new version of one of their finest moments Personal Jesus, remixed by the incredible Stargate.

This was the lead single for the collection, and although not a massive hit, it really was rather special. Transforming the electro-blues-rock stylings of the original into a massive bouncy dance-pop radio-friendly track is nothing short of genius. And it’s every bit as exceptional as that sounds.

Disc 2 kicks off with more bounce in the shape of Trentemøller‘s excellent 2009 version of Wrong, which takes the dark power of the original and channels into something more club-friendly. Great moments follow from François Kevorkian (twice) among others, building up to Jacques Lu Cont‘s remix of A Pain That I’m Used to (2005). This and the moody Monolake mix of The Darkest Star (2006) which follows are the definite highlights of this CD for me. The latter throbs along gently for about six minutes, with the accompaniment of the “whisper” voice from Mac OS X, which always makes for a welcome addition.

The rest of the second disc is consistently strong, with great remixes from United (Barrel of a Gun), Dan the Automator (Only When I Lose Myself) and Ernest Saint Laurent with Sie Medway-Smith (Ghost). And then it’s onto the new stuff in earnest.

Disc three opens with and closes with another two great new mixes of Personal Jesus, the first of which is by Alex Metric, and Eric Prydz follows with his take on Never Let Me Down Again. It’s then time for the first of two spectacularly special moments, as Vince Clarke turns up for his quite excellent version of Behind the Wheel. As with much of his recent work, it’s a lot darker and more electro than you might expect, but it’s still rather brilliant.

The next moment of real fan excitement comes a couple of tracks later when Alan Wilder turns up to take on In Chains. Sounding not unlike Recoil‘s recent work, it does make you wonder slightly what might happen if they were to work together again in earnest.

Röyksopp‘s version of Puppets is every bit as excellent as you would expect, and in fact the vast majority of this final disc is extremely strong. Karlsson and Winnberg (from Miike Snow) are worthy of special mention for the breakdown in the last verse of Tora! Tora! Tora! which serves to underline Dave Gahan‘s wonderful pronunciation of “skellington”.

Joebot‘s version of A Question of Time is a fantastic surprise near the end, and Sie Medway-Smith‘s version of Personal Jesus which closes the collection is very good too. All in all, a great final disc to close an extremely strong remix collection – and I’m not even a huge fan of remixes on the whole.

There are bonus mixes available from various online retailers, although none of the ones I heard was anything particularly special. Stick to the main collection, and you’ve got another quite brilliant album from The Mode. And what more could you ask for?

You can enjoy the triple disc version of the album for a ridiculously bargain price from Amazon UK now.