Sunday, 24 March 2013

Music - Part 61 - Depeche Mode

The following review appeared on Louder Than War on 20/03/13.  It took me completely by surprise - rating as the second highest World Google for 'Depeche Mode Delta Machine', and, being shared around 2,500 times from the LTW site in the four days before it's release.  It made me very proud, and, I received some great comments for it, particularly from Boss man John Robb.  Please read the review below and feel free to add any comments:

Depeche Mode - Delta Machine (Columbia)
25 March 2013

In the four years since the release of the very average Sounds Of The Universe, social media has come a long way.  The new Depeche Mode album has whipped up a media frenzy with, it seems, everyone now a huge fan with a primteime appearance on Letterman Live in the USA proving the theory. 

The release of lead single, Heaven, was a sudden affair, after an album taster released in October 2012, it was believed that Angel was in fact the said single.  Confusion ensued and Heaven’s release was postponed by a week until everything was cleared up.

The question everyone wants to know is, is Delta Machine actually any good?  Tantalisingly described by band and PR alike as a cross between Violator and Songs Of Faith And Devotion (coincidentally, their biggest selling albums), the album is produced by Ben Hillier for the third consecutive time.  Unusual in itself, for pioneers such as DM to stick with the same producer, but, the relationship and final sound is obviously something that the band favour.  Whilst the production on SOTU was well polished, the songs weren’t really up to much and it suffered.  Breaks with VCMG (Martin Gore re-uniting with techno-genius Vince Clarke on the instrumental Ssss album), and, Soulsavers (Dave Gahan effectively becoming a member of the group on the album The Light The Dead See),  have it would seem, recharged their Basildon batteries and they are back with all guns blazing.  In fact, Gahan’s performance on the Soulsavers album was seen by many as the best of his career at the time.

The current Mode sound is exciting with the constant resonance of bass notes, baritone vocals and analogue effects.  With the volume turned up loud, your speakers (and eardrums) WILL rattle.  Opener, Welcome To My World is case in point, the cutting deep thrust resonates immediately to a slow beat with Gahan’s gentle toned voice.  It moves along nicely until a string section lifts the track with a rousing chorus.  The mix isn’t packed, and, there lies the key to the whole album with every track sufficiently filled with equal amounts of voice and sound to allow for an eerie silence in parts, and, for every track to have the potential to roar completely out of control.  Hillier has done well.

The album taster, Angel follows, and will undoubedtly be an forthcoming single.  It too stomps along fiercely from the off with screeching synths and obligatory blips.  Gahan is on top form here with surely one of the greatest performances of his life.  The rough razor like verse vocal complimented by the sweet bridge holding it all together.  Bulding and building into a cacophony of sound.  It’s a joy to hear, and, is very very addictive.

Like Bowie, Depeche chose a ballad as their comeback single.  Heaven broods in its downright patronising braveness and displays that even the 80s stalwarts can produce a ballad of rather magical quality.  Again, the mix is so sparsely put together that every click, beat and tap can be heard.  Whilst the press was raving about the single, the groups PR smugly admitted it wasn’t the best track on the album.

Perhaps a classic Mode sound with a modern twist with Secret To The End.  Bubbling basslines with a rousing rise to a repetitive chorus backed by Gore.  This will embed itself in your head.  The now familiar of late guitar also enters for a brief riff.  Imagine each song on Delta Machine starting like the Wizard Of Oz in a basic black and white, and, slowly exploding into the glorious and bright colours of amazing Technicolor, that’s what you have here.

Packed with 13 songs, Delta Machine continues to prove that the Mode are one of Britains finest ever acts.  Never critically acknowledged with any big media award (perhaps not a bad thing), and, never supported by the likes of Radio 1 in their heyday (guilt finally hitting the station with a Depeche Mode Day in 1993 that even the DJs couldn’t understand), they move forward continually.

Soothe My Soul is another example in the art of alternative pop, starting from nothing and ended with a modern day DJ type mix.  The Child Inside sees Gore take lead vocal for the only time on the album – as usual a slow-paced affair allowing him to pour out his heart once more - a very underrated balladeer.  Soft Touch/Raw Nerve could be an updated outtake from Black Celebration with its constant A Question Of Time like pound.  Another possible single and another example in the art of perfect songwriting. 

Even the blues gets chucked into the perfect equation with album closer, Goodbye, surely also a live show ending?  A Johnny Cash type riff cohesively holding together verses and exploding chorus alike.  Once more, the song rises and rises and rises to its final end.

After being in the spotlight for four decades, Depeche Mode have released possibly their finest work to date.  Staying ahead of the crowd, continuing to be ground-breaking and not pandering to over-commercialisation is what they have always done and will always do.  Delta Machine is a fine, fine album that will no doubt have imitations everywhere.  On this, their thirteenth studio album, the Essex lads can be very proud of themselves.


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