Delta Machine (2013)
In 2013, Depeche Mode released their thirteenth studio album over the space of thirty-three years. Produced by Ben Hillier, Delta Machine flags some return of an older DM sound. Surely, the presence of (frequent teammate/producer) Flood sneaking around them working on the mixing for the album. Flood, of course, produced the highly successful Violator (1990) album among plenty of other work. While quite a few albums before that are exceptional, Black Celebration (1986), Music For the Masses (1987), and Some Great Reward(1984) in particular for me, it seemed that Flood was able to help show the band a mirror or a clearing of a path they could go.
However, what really got me truly excited about a new Mode album for the first time since the release of 2001’s Exciter was the working reunion between songwriter/guitarist Martin Gore and former/founding member Vince Clarke (now of Erasure who left the band in 1981. The two, for the first time in over 20 years (correct me if I am wrong), sat down and started to write music together under the project title VCMG (obviously simply initializing “Vince Clarke Martin Gore”. 2011 saw the first work of the two former-high school classmates as the Spock single with four accompanying remixes. Early on, Gore/Clarke noted it would be vastly different than their full time jobs, and a review to come on them later. VCMG, to me, is old school synthpop drug into the clubs and actually sounds like it has a different flavor than most club music. Instrumentation is one obvious positive “sticks out like a sore thumb” that notes it as something different.
The key factor for this in terms of Depeche Mode, in 2012, he had noted in an interview that it was the most fun he had been having in years and was experimenting more. While Martin Gore has had a solo career for years, he saved his original songwriting for his band. VCMG is the first he (and Vince Clarke) has written outside his main band. On a side note, Martin Gore is due to release the album, currently streaming on his site, on April 28th, 2015 simply titled MG. MG is the first instrumental Martin Gore solo album. After releasing a full-length album and three “maxi”-singles, Martin Gore returned to Depeche Mode with a spoken word of revitalized passion for songwriting. The atmosphere around Depeche Mode articles discussing the thirteenth album were excited, optimistic, and highly anticipated.
On March 26th, 2013, With artwork once again dreamed up and designed by Anton Corbijn (long-time DM collaborator), yet another Depeche Mode was released. The opening track, “Welcome To My World”, starts slow and creepy and reminding me a lot of the Ultra (1997) days, it soon builds up into a chorus that serves no less of a purpose than to remind listeners that this would be a completely different sounding album for them, which is almost always the case with Depeche Mode. An immediate smile came to my face directly after the chorus, hearing the sequencing and more “80s” arpeggios coming back into their music. Dave Gahan’s vocals immediately sound a bit more scarred and almost jazz-styled “sleezy” much like on Songs of Faith And Devotion (1993).
Angel, which was released months prior by the band on YouTube showing them in the studio, has more of Gahan’s Songs… jazz/gospel-like vocals than any other song on the album. Singing the song with passion, it swoops from light moments to multi-layers of DM’s natural talent for using electronics to get their vision across while somehow sound nothing like anyone else. is a beautiful, soul-baring song that shows the kind of power music has, not only the fans and listeners themselves, but its creators as well. While watching the visually pleasing video and hearing how well Gahan sings the song as if it were born for him, it’s almost faded away how, 20 years earlier, he had nearly died multiple times (and actually flat-lined for 5 minutes at one point) while battling a very dark heroin addiction. He sings “Heaven” as if he became clean only a few weeks ago, let alone 20-some years ago. It reminds me a lot of the popular “Enjoy The Silence” (1990) in the way the singer surrenders to the song and its journey. Truly one of the most beautiful they’ve created.
“Secret To The End” has a slightly annoying, repetitive chorus…however the rest of the song’s design more than makes up for it. Highlighting Gahan’s baritone voice and arpeggios reminiscent of old days. “My Little Universe” is hard to explain as it almost has a geeky, positive sampled rhythm base over, seemingly, DM again experimenting with and creating different sounds again. Moving around to “Broken”, which sounds very excellent while driving in a car by the way, has a very hypnotic beat and dark mood. When rhythm picks up, I can hear bits of what would have been a sample “pad” used by them in the 80’s. Littered all over the album, is an obvious returning clarity and something driving them even more to go their own way (not that they ever stopped). Other mentionables: “Should Be Higher”, “Alone”, “Soothe My Soul”…among others.
While some fans sighed and yawned at 2009’s “Sounds of the Universe”, which I still thought was an amazing album and an addition of former-member Alan Wilder (Recoil) remixing “In Chains” was exceptionally good. However, there is something more potent about Delta Machine when it comes to songwriting. It’s easy to tell things were clicking and momentum was growing on trying new things again and, while all Depeche Mode albums don’t sound alike, create something truly different for them.
Delta Machine rivaled my curiosity on whether or not Depeche Mode had hit a plateau. It’s likely obvious, but they laid out sonic facts that they have a lot more to offer and new avenues to venture down and explore.
– Brian Wardwell
(if there were errors in any facts, please feel free to comment and correct me)