Monday, February 09, 2009

Sneak Preview of Depeche Mode's "Sounds of the Universe"

extrawack!'s Corey Vezina recently caught an advance listen of the new Depeche Mode album, Sounds of the's his review:

Surely, you think, it must be some sort of trick. More mathematical cum financial sleight of hand bullsh*t from the pages of the paper you can’t bear to read anymore; Another of those things that reminds you of the precise reasons well all knew better than to do something as hopelessly square as pay attention in math class.

Depeche Mode, 30 years? Oh, f@ck off.

Yet, there they are. Just a year shy of the third decade -which almost no band ever sees- album 12, Sounds of the Universe, clangs loudly into the room, still confident and tight in black shades. Still dark. Still electric. Still here.

You may not remember their last two albums, Exciter and Playing the Angel. You’d be generally forgiven for that, dropping as they did in an almost hidden way, finding their pulsing way to the CD rack at Virgin to sit behind the re-pressings of Music for the Masses and Violator. Ultra, itself now a decade gone, was the last album to make anything like a wave, to bend your ear at times the way the songs always used to. The band spun into the inevitable solo projects and change of writers that always mark the sign of a good band falling finally and fully apart. Tracks began to spin more and more off of the tight electric axis they’d created. Surely, time had finally got the better of them.

But, they are not here to go quietly.

Following up on 2005’s Playing the Angel, Sounds... returns the dark, scratchy, bass-driven industrial electronic music that the band introduced on 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion. Long since gone are the synth-romance roots that popped and echoed through the dance clubs of the early 90s. Increasingly, the tunes are an edgy anti-pop, produced to a technically aggressive point intentionally beyond radio airplay. Music decidedly not for the masses. Understandably so at this point in their career...bitterness of experience aside, who has much left to say at 50 that they didn’t say at 20? Yet, it comes out at times as a brutish attempt to sonically remind of the steel toe in one’s boot. "We’re still loud, are you still with us?"

While surely the message of a given piece of music can be important and the statement it is making is can be impressive, at some point, songs become "good" or not when you sing them in the shower, or drum them into your steering wheel. This album seems orchestrated to not be consumed in so pedestrian a fashion.

The tight and wrought ballads are still there, Gahan’s crooning search for achieving a better version of himself continues, but expect a treatment quite similar to Playing the Angel, where Gore and Fletcher’s layering of the sounds takes you loudly the wrong way through the pipe organ. Where previous efforts would carry you away, it’s now on you to follow along.

Running about 57 minutes, the tracks include the single "Wrong", a strongly belted and thumpingly backed lament of running life’s chances quite off the rails, the slower tempo of "Peace" where Gahan takes a choral refrain right up the cliff into falsetto and "Fragile", another melodic bass track with a handful of the early background computer noises you got first on "New Life", if you’ve been around that long.

"Hole to Feed" is perhaps the best effort, again pulsating and upbeat about its darkness, though, it doesn’t quite reach the heights of Angel’s top single, "Precious". "Space Walker" is the "you get one every album" instrumental, Jezebel the "you get one every album" Martin Gore ballad, though, with a near Erasure vocal treatment.

All in, a solid album, though, with fewer songs you, a mere human, can sing along to. Like seeing that girl from high school at a 20 year reunion, you still feel the love, but you have to work harder now for the lust.

Full track list:

1. In Chains
2. Hole To Feed
3. Wrong
4. Fragile Tension
5. Little Soul
6. In Sympathy
7. Peace
8. Come Back
9. Spacewalker
10. Perfect
11. Miles Away / The Truth Is
12. Jezebel
13. Corrupt


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