As with any band to have endured over three decades of existence, there’s little that can be said of Basildon boys Depeche Mode that’s not already been scribbled nor slurred umpteen times before. From Dave Gahan’s perilous descent into gravely overdoing it, to the hand they played in formulating British synthpop alongside the likes of Ultravox, Soft Cell and Gary Numan around the turn of the ’80s, they’re cultural stalwarts in the very literal, and quite irrefutable sense of the term. And as such, they’ve been whimsically forgiven the odd dubious outing here and there: the latter half of their latest – Sounds of the Universe of ’09 – or the nigh on entirety of the excessively Martin Gore-y ’01 LP, Exciter.
Though if Dave, Martin and Andy “Fletch” Fletcher went some way to doing away with their integrity even on début full-length Speak & Spell, then they’ve yet to compromise on ingenuity, and the perpetual pushing of the proverbial envelope. They this week release their thirteenth, Delta Machine, and although there’s an element of the trio resting on their plush laurels pervading the archetypal bleakness here compiled, there are so too moments of glorious redemption.
Of course redemption and salvation – or a lack thereof – are again key themes and these have perhaps never been quite so plainly expressed as they are on the otherwise inconsequential Alone, during which Gahan self-deprecatingly intones: “I couldn’t save your soul/ I couldn’t even take you home.” And though a rhyming couplet crude as most oils, it allows for the gloomy hyperbole to be permeated albeit momentarily by a homely, though most pertinently overtly human sentiment.
The menacing, appositely trashy arpeggios of Soothe My Soul so too effectively underly palpably human sensations, as Gahan rakishly avows in that inimitably weatherbeaten baritone: “I’m taking my place/ By your side/ And I’m not leaving/ Until I’m satisfied.” Given the currently of course rightly tempestuous climate of antimony toward importunate rape and pillaging, it’s perhaps a dangerous revelation though within the grim context of the Essex outfit, it strikes a violent chord of wild enchantment. Similarly, Broken – one of three incidentally pieced together by Gahan and his sometime accomplice, Kurt Uenala – laments the gradual decline of an ambiguous other “broken from the start” which comes smeared atop intensely industrialised motorik grooves and a beguiling guitar refrain courtesy of Gore.
Though Delta Machine itself is if not broken, then in a state of gently tempered disrepair as it may well be remembered for nothing if not a dearth of truly memorable tunes – the sort to have once been Gore’s stock in trade. There is no Walking In My Shoes; no World In My Eyes; I Feel You. Not even A Pain That I’m Used To. And as such, it makes for a low-key listen that disorientates only in its deep-seated qualities of being unrecognisable though perhaps more problematically, utterly unremarkable. The gritty, tumbledown gurgles of Angel see Gahan embark upon a damned impersonation of the rather more conventional bluesman Nick Cave doing Feeling Good a critical injustice; the wompy trip hop stylisation of The Child Inside proves outwardly directionless; and My Little Universe is as though the unmanned machines of Kraftwerk’s Computer World direly fumbling for the soul provided by the men to manipulate them so. “Here I am king/ I decide everything” Gahan imperially decrees as Gore’s operatic vocal soars of “no-one/ no-one/ no-one” over a glitch-ridden soundscape of impenetrable hostility, though rarely have they really sounded so impotent.
And so it feels somewhat telling that they should come to conclude what is, to all intents and purposes, a pretty lukewarm recording with a moody stomp entitled Goodbye. “It was you that took my soul/ Threw it in the fire/ Tamed it in the rapture/ Filled me with desire/ Now I’m pure, now I’m clean/ I feel cured and serene in you” Gahan this time dictates as though at once at peace with those demonic tormentors to have once fuelled his tricksy addictions. “Goodbye pain/ Goodbye again” he’ll later proclaim and though one senses it’s more auf Wiedersehen than Lebewohl, few would perhaps lament the trio relishing a moment or two to enjoy the silences of life…
Released: March 25th, 2013 [Columbia Records]