That in their 33rd year as a band, Depeche Mode open their 13th album with a song called “Welcome To My World” might seem like an ironic gesture, but it’s anything but insincere. With Delta Machine, Depeche Mode put forth an album that serves up some familiar lyrical themes that fit in with the band’s standard fare, but the encompassing sound follows a concept the group’s never pursued before.
Offering up some easily discernible blues guitar drones on tracks like “Slow” and “Goodbye,” the group pursues a loose theme that sets delta blues up against some of the modernity-exploitive electronic and alterna-dance components that Depeche Mode has relied on throughout their career to arrive at a hybrid sound that explains the Delta Machine heading pretty directly, and the result is an album that is dark and contemplative at once with its musical as well as its lyrical subject matter.
Not short on surprises, the band doesn’t limit itself to the title concept and risk putting out a piece of contrived art, but instead allows itself to branch off from it as well as the contextual framework the band chiseled itself into over the past three decades.
With dark and damaged swamp gospel vocals coupling a throbbing electronic pulse and perforated with an atmospheric chorus, “Angel” is an intelligent inclusion among the melancholy of an album that boasts blues-entwined techno. It’s an obvious choice to precede “Heaven,” the album’s only single released so far. The latter is an emotional rumination of longing and a call for spiritual validation that’s the clear flag bearer for the album. Together these tracks insure fans craving some material that progresses from the group’s traditional lyrical concentrations on spiritual frustrations will remain satisfied.
While the band appears to make an effort to appease what might be less open-minded fans, this labour doesn’t seem to come without a bit of sarcasm. “My Little Universe” is a meditation (if not a satire) on ivory tower isolationism that – with a minimalist glitch accompaniment that at first sits in the background but eventually blossoms to stave off and silence Dave Gahan’s (here notably restrained) vocals – could operate as (perhaps cliché in alternately folk-purist contexts) commentary on the state of an increasingly technologically-involved culture that also signals how self-aware the group had to become before exploring some new avenues for artistic direction. Contrastingly, “Soothe My Soul” seems like more of a crowd pleaser with its dark alternative dance and guitar work on the chorus that is not dissimilar to the chords Martin Gore wrote for “Personal Jesus” in 1989.
If anything counts against Delta Machine, the offering does come off a little long, and perhaps some of the material would fit better on a standalone effort. However, how much can we blame the guys? Delta Machine marks the end of a trilogy of records Depeche Mode has been working on with producer Ben Hillier, so maybe some of the inclusions arrive more out of respect than necessity.
If a little long, Delta Machine remains one of Depeche Mode’s most impressive records – even more so considering how late it comes in the group’s career.
(Originally published by The Ontarion March 27, 2013.)