Special: Depeche Mode – A first insight into “Delta Machine”

depechemode deltamachineDEPECHE MODE have announced they will release their highly anticipated 13th studio album, entitled Delta Machine, on March 26th worldwide via Columbia Records. The album, recorded over the last year in Santa Barbara, California and New York City, was produced by Ben Hillier and mixed by Flood. Last week, finally first press listening sessions took place and since that, Twitter, Facebook and other social networks are flooded with several comments from journalists about their impressions. Music Magazines Clash Music and Spin have been providing more detailed reviews of the album, immediately causing more discussions within the fans. Long-time fan and music journalist Samuli K. was attending one of the listening sessions in Finland and wrote a detailed track-by-track review of the album. Take some time and read his impressions. [Daniela Vorndran]

Disclaimer 1: remember that I have heard this only once – and while I usually detect what I like or not like on the very first hearing, these are still first impressions.
Disclaimer 2: I had no lyric sheet so the lyrical quotes may not be totally correct
Disclaimer 3: I loved ‘Playing the Angel’ [PTA] and disliked ‘Sounds of the Universe’ [SOTU], so if your opinions vary from mine concerning those two albums, you might disagree with very much of what I write.

depechemode2013 03So… overall impressions first. For all the talk about Flood being on board and of Martin describing the album as ”a mixture of SOFAD and Violator”, the way that I hear it is that it’s very much the third part of the Ben Hillier album trilogy. The sound is cleaner and harsher than on PTA, but some overall problems still persist. But like Mark1975 [comment: member of the HOME Depeche Mode forum] wrote, PTA was in many ways a tribute to DEPECHE MODE’s [DM] past, so there are similar nods to past glories scattered all over the album.

One of those problems is the much-talked about lack of middle-eights, which really plagues especially the first half of the album. I’ll mention it here, because otherwise I would moan about it on almost every other track review. It’s frustrating because there are some excellent DM songs on ‘Delta Machine’ (‘Welcome To My World’ and ‘Secret to The End’ to name a couple), which are separated from the future classic status only due to the lack of somebody making them go the extra mile. Another thing I’ll mention here, that I don’t think DM is capable of providing us with anything truly new and original. So ‘Delta Machine’ won’t really give us anything totally new, but otherwise it shows a reinvigorated band at the top the game of being a 32-year DEPECHE MODE. And at its best moments (of which there are a lot) it provides the old themes and subjects with new twists.

01. Welcome To My World
A soft techno pulse makes one wonder if this is an instrumental like some predicted, but then Dave comes in: ”Welcome to my world / step right through the door”. More like the slow build of ‘In Chains’ instead of the burst of energy that was ‘A Pain That I'm Used To’, this is an intelligent and promising start which leads into a spine-tinglingly wordy and ascendant chorus in which Dave half-promises and half-threatens to ”penetrate your soul” and ”bleed into your dreams”. We are instructed to ”watch the sunlight fade” and ”see the moon begin to blush” and blimey, this is great indeed – like ‘World in my Eyes’ projected into the 2013. After the second chorus I’m ready to be swept off my feet, but – blah – once again the song bleeps and bloops out of sight instead of giving us anything more. Still, a very good start.

depechemode2013 0102. Angel
The one we already know [comment: this song was played during the press conference in October last year, when the band announced their upcoming tour]. I didn’t want to overplay it before the album and because I wasn’t blown by it, it was easy to save it for the album. So I’ll just say that I spot no major deviations from the track we’ve heard.

03. Heaven
I’ll just say that as a single it’s quite underwhelming, but it provides a welcome respite from all the harsh electro on the album. [comment: please read our detailed single review!]

04. Secret To The End
The album picks up with an up-tempo electro stomp, spiced with some dirty guitar. For once we have a proper chorus (hooray!) which may look silly on paper but works intensively accompanied by music: ”The problem should’ve been you / (”should’ve been you”) / (”would’ve been you”)/ (”could’ve been you”) / If it hadn’t been me / (”hadn’t been me”) / (”hadn’t been me)” – Martin and Dave shouting the latter parts of the chorus on top of each other. I suspect it’s a Dave track [comment: means written by Dave Gahan, usually, Martin Gore is writing the songs], because out of the first six ones it’s the one I can’t instantly recognize as pure Gore. But it’s not a sign of disrespect, this is a strong song. Some very ‘It’s No Good’ –style sounds in the instrumental section after the second chorus.

depechemode2013 0605. My Little Universe
With ”My little universe is expanding” and ”beautiful emptiness surrounds me” being among the opening lines and pointillist beats peppering the sparse soundscape, this sounds very much like a Martin track – but it’s still sung by Dave for some reason. Short sharp bursts of melody break the sonic surface here and there, but this is still very much ”experimental DM” in the style of ‘Macro’ and ‘Counterfeit 2’ [comment: latter one is a Martin Gore solo album]. The chorus is surprisingly non-melodic and solipsistic: ”Here I am king / I decide everything / I let no-one in / no-one”. I like this a lot, but I’m sure this will be among the more controversial tracks of ‘Delta Machine’. The tempo picks up a bit towards the end in the style of IAMX’ ‘Music People’, but to nowhere as dramatic an effect.

06. Slow
After a couple of very electronic tracks, the blues influence is back with a bang: ”Slow, slow, slow as you can go / I want my senses to overflow” the song starts with its chorus-substitute (this is one of the songs, where one can’t really say what is verse and what is chorus). The guitars drawl more traditionally than usual and while some might moan the lack of a catchy hook, I personally love this and find some good couplets here and there: ”I let the world keep its colourful pace / I prefer to just study your beautiful face”.

depechemode2013 0407. Broken
After a couple of perhaps less commercial tracks, the single-writing DM is back with a bang. This is an instant hit with me: sound-wise and thematically between the haunting but intense ‘Little 15’ and the mysterious speeding drama of ‘Behind The Wheel’. The chorus is by far the most catchy and commercial on the album: ”When you fall in / I will catch you / You don’t have to fall that far / You can make it/ I will be there / You were broken from the start”. For the life of me, I can’t decide whether this is Dave or Martin – because I love it, I feel it’s Mart, but writing down those lyrics (which once again work much better while sung) I can’t help feeling it’s Dave. Well done, whoever! They were insane to not put this out as the first single.

08. The Child Inside
The soft baby steps of ‘Introspectre’-y synths pitter-patter in so this must be the first instrumental, right? But no, Martin follows them with a truly creepy lyric, with the first verse ending with something like ”you really should have dug a little deeper / the body parts that you’re beginning to find / are starting to scare the child inside away” (I most likely got the phrasing wrong, but that’s the definitely the general idea). Brrr! Martin’s tremolo is also getting more advanced, the older he gets. This is not one of those lush Martin ballads many of us (me included) wish that he still wrote, but this is still atmospheric and rather brilliant. ”You really should have taken all your dolls to bed with you”.

09. Soft Touch / Raw Nerve
Rather curiously, so far ‘Delta Machine’ has been rather slow or mid-tempo, but with this track the album speeds up instead of calming down – which is what albums usually do two thirds in, right? The song opens with Dave barging in like a brute: ”Have I got a soft touch? / Have I got a soft touch? / Or is my radar that off?” Well, frankly, yes. The overall mood is quite ‘Better Days’, but the song is softer than that and a more melodic ”Oh brother, give me a helping hand” part gives the song some inventive dynamics. Unless I’m totally wrong, this even has a middle eight. Hooray! I’m sure I’ll love this after more listens.

depechemode2013 0210. Should Be Higher
Another stomper, this time Gary Glitter on amphetamine being the main influence. I’m not wondering why this has been rumoured as the second single: it does build up nicely and the chorus works well in a rather epic, non-DM style. Dave’s vocals are mixed curiously low in the chorus and his emotive singing reminds of HIM’s Ville Valo here. The rather hopelessly naff chorus lyrics: ”Your lies are more attractive than your truth / Love is all I want / Your lies are written down there in your heart / Love is all I want” reveal that this must be a Dave track, but otherwise it’s a goodie.

11. Alone
Another potential up-tempo single with the lyrics playing the usual DM game of love-as-religion: ”I am your father, your son, your holy ghost and your priest”. The chorus ”I couldn’t save your soul / I couldn’t even take you home / I couldn’t have played that role / Alone” has hints of an epic backing melody that I wish would have been taken further. But yes, another track, another hit.

12. Soothe My Soul
The first 11 tracks have taken us past the 50-minute mark and perhaps that’s where ‘Delta Machine’ should have ended, since with ‘Soothe My Soul’ the album finally runs out of steam. This is clichéd sub-‘Corrupt’ stuff indeed: ”I’m coming for you when the sun goes down / I’m coming for you when there’s no-one around / I’ll come to your house and break your door / I’m coming for you because  I need to feel your skin”. All this because, as the chorus goes, ”there’s only one way to soothe my soul”. All this is very naff indeed and perhaps a bit sad coming from fifty-something men. I must say the actual tune is not that bad in its B-side-y way, but otherwise than that, this is the one true misstep on the album. I truly hope this is a Dave song, because this kind of laziness just shouldn’t be expected from Mart at this stage.

depechemode2013 05

13. Goodbye
After hiding in the background for a while, the blues guitars make a comeback – this time in a ‘Pleasure Little Treasure’ style. The vowels are very stretched in the vocals, so I had a hard time writing anything comprehensible about them – but the chorus goes ”Goodbye again”, the ”again” perhaps soothing down those who try to read too much into the title. The track has a false ending and them crashes back with an explosive last minute. This is not a bad song, and definitely a grower, but with ‘Soothe My Soul’ breaking the album’s spell, this feels a bit unnecessary. Perhaps they should have called it quits while they were still ahead.

So, that was what Samuli thought about the album. Now, we have to wait until end of March to check it our ourselves… and then in May, the tour will kick of…


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