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Sunday, April 28, 2013

Delta Machine hits a raw nerve

I've been listening to Depeche Mode's newest album this evening. I was curious what kind of feedback this thing is getting because it's a distinctly new sort of sound for the trio, so I dug in to some online reviews. Man, the critics can be so harsh sometimes. It seems from my reading that most reviewers are panning this disc pretty well across the board. A few good reviews are to be found, but for the most part they're writing that Delta Machine is the band's worst album in their 33-year, 13-album career.

Without even having heard every one of the band's albums, I'd have to disagree.

Let me preface this, in the interest of full disclosure, by stating up front that Violator is one of my all-time favorite albums, and it's the one that I hold all newer ('90s and later) Depeche Mode albums up against for scrutiny. I haven't liked a whole lot of their offerings since then. The immediate followup, Songs of Faith and Devotion was pretty solid, but they kind of lost me with Ultra. In my opinion, the opening track, "Barrel of a Gun," was hard to beat on that record. After that, I just kinda lost interest, preferring the back catalog to any new offerings. Between the compilation Catching Up..., Some Great Reward, Violator and Songs of Faith..., I was pretty happy with my collection and had no need to update it.

When I heard about this newest effort, I had to check it out. The iTunes previews interested me, so I went ahead and sprung for the two-disc special edition. I am not disappointed... for the most part. It doesn't have the overall danceability of Violator, but it somehow feels musically more relevant to today than I thought it would. It's raw, unfiltered and subtly visceral, with an electronic and synth edge I was not expecting.

I've read reviews that say this album has no ties to DM's back catalog, but I disagree. I'm not that familiar with their very early stuff, but I can clearly hear echoes of that early comp Catching Up with Depeche Mode in this album--not in every track, mind you, and not even as the sole influence on the tracks which do exhibit that sound. But it's there nonetheless; you'll really hear it in "Broken" and "Soft Touch/Raw Nerve."

The thing that immediately appealed to me about this record is that it has an overall simplicity to it that is purely electronic and grungy. Like a wine with notes of oak or cherry, I am getting a taste of Trent Reznor's most recent efforts, an aroma of Daft Punk's Tron: Legacy soundtrack, and a hint of the sonic soundscapes of Atticus Ross. Many of the tracks early in the record have a very minimalist electronic approach that really appeals to me--a stark contrast to what we've heard from the band up to now. This is especially apparent in the two opening tracks, "Welcome to My World" and "Angel."

Standouts are the danceable "Soothe My Soul" and the introspective "Slow," which reminds me of Violator's "Clean."

Overall, I think Delta Machine is a solid album from a band that is back on the cutting edge where they should be. Sure, there are a few duds on the disc, and the whole album is admittedly not for everyone, but it worked for me.