Bands that are past their prime should never hype an upcoming release by comparing it their classic records; it’s a surefire way to raise fans’ expectations to unrealistic heights, setting the stage for inevitable disappointment and backlash. As self-destructive as this kind of hype is, veteran bands just can’t seem to resist promoting new albums in this way. That is exactly what the members of Depeche Mode did last October when they compared their latest material to that of two of their most beloved records, Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion.
So here we have Depeche Mode’s thirteenth full-length album, Delta Machine, and unsurprisingly it is not Violator: Part II. That said, Delta Machine does reemphasize one key quality from Depeche Mode’s classic era – generally agreed to span from 1986’s Black Celebration to 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion) – namely, an emphasis on more soulful vocals. Dave Gahan offers a more daring and dynamic performance than he has on the previous few records and numerous tracks exhibit the sort of luscious vocal harmonies that made Songs of Faith and Devotion such a classic. The best example comes on the first single, “Heaven,” where Martin Gore does an excellent job of shifting between harmonizing with Gahan and delivering delicious counter-melodies.
Depeche Mode’s “Heaven”
However, beyond the vocal arrangements it’s hard to say that Delta Machine is any closer to Depeche Mode’s classic sound than any of its other recent records. Sure, there are a few tracks that blatantly rehash structures and styles of old songs (“Soothe my Soul” is really close to “Halo” from Violator) but otherwise Delta Machine is more accurately described as a more diverse employment of the formula used on 2009’s Sounds of the Universe. Granted, that description isn’t gonna spike record sales but at least it’s honest. Like Sounds of the Universe, Delta Machine mostly consists of electro drum beats embedded beneath multiple layers of synths – some offering surging electronic tones and others offering lush orchestral textures. Sounds of the Universe is a more unified endeavor, producing a spacy atmosphere from start to finish. In contrast, Delta Machine creates a wide variety of moods and ambiences. “My Little Universe,” offers hypnotic deep space psychedelics through a series pulsating synth patterns that sound like soundtrack for the birth of a star. The very next song, “Slow” is dark and sultry, driven by a thick blues riff and Gahan’s raunchy delivery of lines like “as slow as you can go/ I want my senses to overflow/ slow, slow.” Other tracks, such as “Welcome to My World” and “Goodbye” let vocals, guitars and synths build upon one another, culminating in joyous high points.
While the variety of sounds and moods offered on Delta Machine is quite nice, the quality of the compositions varies considerably. Though the aforementioned tracks are as good as anything Depeche Mode has released in the last fifteen years, some of the other tracks are fairly bland. The album doesn’t have any absolute duds but there are a number of tracks that fail to leave much of an impression. Give or take a few songs and the same thing can be said about Playing the Angel and Sounds of the Universe. Thus, it seems that the members of Depeche Mode are at a stage in their career where they can only produce about six or seven standout tracks at a time. For many, that will be enough to get the job done. Those who found enjoyment in their past few records will certainly find pleasure in Delta Machine, especially considering the strong vocal performance. However, those who haven’t checked in with the band since the mid-nineties probably don’t need to start now.
Written by Jael Reboh
OurVinyl | Contributor