Depeche Mode's Delta Machine Track-By-Track Preview
, March 7th, 2013 05:00
Depeche Mode are back with their 13th album, and Luke Turner sits down with it for an instant, track-by-track appraisal
'Welcome To My World'
Static... a power station whoomp... huge blasts... wait a minute, has someone put on a new album from the Raster-Noton label by mistake!? Depeche Mode's 13th studio album sure starts with one hell of a noisy, avant-techno surprise. But then Dave Gahan' quite delicate vocal comes in by way of a contrast "welcome to my world / leave your tranquilisers at home / you don't need them any more". Is this a State Of Depeche Mode? "All the drama queens are gone," he sings, "the Devil got this made". The track builds into a huge chorus refrain of "welcome to my world" as the noise keeps going, ripping and sounding very analogue with a pile of strings underneath. There's a lot of bluster here, but it holds up well. The devil/soul/bleed/dreams/control familiar Gahan themes.
This is the preview track that first announced Delta Machine via a video tour around the Depeche Mode studio a few months ago. It begins even heavier than 'Welcome…', the hardest textually since the Einsturzende Neubauten-inspired work with Gareth Jones during the mid-80s, and possibly more so. If there is any guitar here, it's heavily processed beyond the point of recognition. Gahan's histrionic gospel is great - "the angel of love is upon me" and lines about a "preacher on Sunday" suggesting a conflicted soul. 'Angel' sounds like Depeche Mode, but also nothing like Depeche Mode have ever sounded before.
I must admit I wasn't sure about this as a single. It felt a little too focussed at the mainstream American radio market, a little too much Lennon twisted into the piano, a little of Radiohead's 'Karma Police', and it's fair to say it is a marked contrast to that opening salvo. Still, it's not too much of a passion-killer as far as the sequencing goes, though fans of the tougher side of Depeche Mode will not be left hoping for more. Actually, the great thing about 'Heaven' is that it sounds like the sort of song U2 ought to be writing if they weren't constantly spinning songs out of a gigantic cloud of wind... and there's always that Blawan remix.
'Secret To The End'
The throbbing electronics do not spend too long away! Here, there's a really solid analogue burble, simple martial drum machine and a 'ping ping' as Gahan's vocals again build things up into an excellent, typically Depeche chorus. "The problems should have been you.. if it hadn't been me... the final contract expires soon / we've come to the end". It's really starting to feel as if some of the VCMG sonics have rubbed off on Depeche Mode. There's a great breakdown of drums and a one-note keyboard line before a properly snide and nasty finale, something bad going down in the drill hall.
'My Little Universe'
Another change here, starting with a percussive, awkward tone and Gahan is in croon mode - in fact, you could even imagine this coming from Thom Yorke as he sings "here I am king / I decide everything / I let no-one in". Musically it (aptly) is all fractured electronics like Four Tet or something, bleep bah bah boop boop. The track works precisely because of its considered use of space, and a wheezing, fruity workout. This is far from pompous or austere, and is entirely unlike anything Depeche Mode have ever done before.
...and here come the blues as we reach the halfway mark, and presumably it's Gore on the electric guitar. It fits perfectly with the rest of the album though thanks to the fact that it's electronics that still dominate, and the rhythm has quite a lascivious groove. It's apt, as Dave Gahan is getting sleazy here: "slow as I can go / That's how I like it / I don't need a race in my bed / the speed's in my heart / the speed's in my head". There's a noise in the background that sounds like one of those things you used to have that went 'wurgle' when you turned them up and down, but this one belongs to a naughty robot.
This harks back to tracks like 'Behind The Wheel', with clipped syn drums and dark purpose via some interesting echo effects in the background. Guitar features here as Gahan sings about innocence ("do you remember a time without tears") and offers to rescue the protagonist from their predicament in an understated chorus "you were falling / I will catch you / you don't have to fall that far". It's a bit different from what he was offering in 'Question Of Time' anyway.
'The Child Inside'
This almost feels like a part two to 'Broken' with the cheering gambit "there is darkness and death in your eyes / what have you got buried inside / the shallow grave in your soul"… and gets bleaker "you really should have dug a little deeper there / body parts are starting to appear and scare / the child inside away". It's another very simple track, booming bass, what might be wind in treetops, strings, vocals that almost feel a little hymnal in inspiration, a scythe of sci fi now and then, and a spooky forest at the end as the lyrics get even bleaker: "you knew you should have taken all your dolls to bed / but you were made to play games with your soul instead / the child inside has died." It's the quietest track on the album, and perhaps the most cleverly constructed.
'Soft Touch / Raw Nerve'
WHUMP! A leathery monster! All stab, no flab, drums banging away mercilessly, synths like a finger running over glistening, wet skin, and a deliciously camp Depeche chorus: "oh brother! Give me a helping hand". You could almost argue that, with its rough backing vocals and general exuberance, it's about the most carefree pop song Depeche Mode have done since their earliest years while still being married to what's becoming Delta Machine's characteristic tough production. Pass the poppers, Fletch old boy!
'Should Be Higher'
This starts off as the murkiest track yet with a purposeful 4/4 whip-crack beat. There's now no doubt that Delta Machine is the the darkest and most violent Depeche Mode material in years. Lyrically, the title and lyrics of holes in infected arms and lies , succumbing to bliss and so on suggest another addition to the DM canon of songs that might be about smack, or love, or both. There's another sky-straining chorus that makes this brilliant stadium pop, and yet more evidence of the weakness of the Anglo Saxon ear. Across Europe, from Volgograd to Turin, Helsinki to Lodz they'll come in their thousands for songs as mighty as this... while here in Britain we like to watch Coldplay and Muse. The disgrace of our nation.
A low, galloping drumbeat, train-coming-off-the-rails-in-a-b&w-film synth melody, more crunchy rhythms - all in all a decidedly excellent tumult. "I couldn't save your soul"... Gahan has been apologising for this sort of thing for years now, and it still hasn't lost its edge. Musically it's further proof that here Depeche Mode have resisted the urge to over-polish everything. 'Alone' is a guttural, ragged creature with a really nice sountracky conclusion. Seeing this album played live is going to be interesting - if some Depeche Mode gigs of recent years have lacked the power of what was captured on, say, the 101 recordings, there's just no way you can do this album justice without opening up the afterburners and making it sound massive.
'Soothe My Soul'
Another up-beat, techno-pop number, and this one is very much like a deconstructed VCMG in feel. Gahan has adapted to this well - "I come to your house / I break down the door" he thunders, and it goes all helicopters before... rather surprisingly... a bollock-busting stomper of a chrous drops in. Dave has the horn! Here he is! See those leather trousers stretch! "I'M COMING FOR YOU! THERE'S ONLY ONE WAY TO SOOTHE MY SOUL" he cries, rather cheekily. All credit is due to leaving the new 'Personal Jesus' right to the penultimate track of the album. A classic, classic Depeche Mode track, this, they've really pulled it off here.
After all that, a cowboy song?! "It was you who took my soul and threw it on the fire". This is blues-influenced yes, but again the acoustic guitar is perfectly embedded in the electronics and as the track progresses a great twinkling synth part sits over Gahan's vocals. You might have expected 'Goodbye' to be some kind of ballady coda, but no, they've kept it rigid right up to the end.
So this is only an instant, snap appraisal, and who knows, repeated listens may reveal flaws. But for now, Delta Machine roars out of the traps as a supremely confident album by a reinvigorated, inventive Depeche Mode. It isn't, of course, VCMG with vocals, and there are threads here from the more recent albums. But texturally this is a very rich electronic record, rough around the edges and a huge amount of fun - there is some of the campest Depeche Mode material in here since their earliest days. I'd hazard to guess that my initial assessment of this as the best, most powerful, gothic, twisted, electronic album since Violator.