Oh Depeche Mode, how do we love thee? As one of the few synth bands from the 80s to remain intact, Depeche Mode has not only maintained their signature sound all these years, but also their edge. Delta Machine marks Depeche Mode’s thirteenth studio release, and while most other groups with this type of longevity tend to adopt an “old man trying to sound young” vibe (Paul McCartney, U2, et. al,), there is something mysteriously timeless about Dave Gahan’s arcane vocal stylings. Returning to producer Ben Hillier (who also worked with them on Sounds of the Universe and Playing the Angel), Depeche Mode continues to sustain the dark, shall we say, almost goth undertones they have become known for. With Flood (who has mixed the likes of New Order and Erasure) mixing the album, the combination makes for a despairing—but never maudlin—effect.
“Welcome to My World” bursts onto the speakers in a synth frenzy that announces Depeche Mode’s return. Grahan insists, “Leave your tranquilizers at home, you don’t need them anymore.” The song transitions into a string-sounding arrangement as Grahan continues to growl, “Welcome to my world.” And what a world it is to be invited to. Following is the first single from the album, “Angel,” is grating at times, and not necessarily the strongest first single they could have chosen. “Heaven” brings the pace to a much slower tempo with Grahan embracing his knack for balladry. At times mimicking the sound and intonation of Lana Del Rey’s “Million Dollar Man,” there is something undeniably sultry about this track.
As the song that most closely resembles something you would hear on the much lauded Violator album, “Secret to the End” is one of the most memorable songs from Delta Machine. Oozing with agony, Grahan questions, “Did I disappoint you?/I wanted to believe it’s true/The book of love was not enough to see us through.” Accusatory and venomous, there is an honesty and purity to this track that makes it one of Depeche Mode’s best in many years. “My Little Universe” briefly resuscitates late 90s electronica with its musical intro (it’s a sound Hot Chip wishes they had come up with). With a controlled sounding musical background that feels like it will burst at any moment, Gahan sings, “Limited consciousness preserves me/It protects me.” As one of the most lyrically poignant offerings on the album, “My Little Universe” refers to the innerworkings of the mind that act as their own sub-planet to Earth.
“Slow” is just that. Toned down, evocative and not in any way related to the Kylie Minogue song. Though it is just as sexual with assertions like, “I don’t need a race in my bed/Speed’s in my heart and speed’s in my head instead/When something’s so good why should we rush it?” Continuing the one-word song title motif, “Broken” is at times moody and a bit trite. Singing “When you’re fallen 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.”
“The Child Inside” is one of the most ambient sounding songs on Delta Machine. With ample death imagery to establish a metaphor for digging away at the remains of the soul to unearth the child inside us all. “Watching from afar, I see a child is drowned/The child inside your heart” implicates that the innocence we all start out with is quite difficult to get back once it’s gone. “Soft Touch/Raw Nerve”—the most creatively named song title on the album—showcases vivacious synths and 80s aplomb. It is Grahan at his most inquisitive as he asks repeatedly, “Have I got a soft touch?/Have I hit a raw nerve?” In spite of his concern for the other party in the scenario, he notes, “I’ve got a confession/Your depression will take me down.” Always one for expressing a dichotomy, this song is one of the most illustrative examples of this skill.
“Should Be Higher” instantly sounds like it could have provided the score to Alphaville with its futuristic, slightly upbeat musical background. Hitting home on the Catholic-style theme, “I dream of a day when the shame and the guilt are removed and the truth appears,” “Should Be Higher” is among the most striking and unforgettable songs contained on the record. “Alone” is at once fierce and ominous, opening with the declaration, “I was there when you needed me most/I was there when you wanted me least.” It is a tale of a toxic relationship, one in which someone is giving far more than they should for how little they receive in return.
Not in a rush to slow down the mood just because the album is about to come to a close, “Soothe My Soul” has a vital backbeat that is one of the most synth-laden tracks, segueing into a more alt rock-tinged vibe at time as Grahan sings, “There’s only one way to soothe my soul.” Though he never does tell us exactly what that way is.
In a move that the Pet Shop Boys would make, Depeche Mode concludes their album with the succinct “Goodbye.” With a twangy, western sort of feel (by Depeche Mode standards of course), the lyrical content of the track is, by this time, a bit played. Again, Grahan rehashes a story of being victimized by another, ultimately deciding to forgive and say goodbye. But, regardless of how drawn out certain motifs are on Delta Machine, so long as Depeche Mode keeps managing to put forth the incredible backing music to go with it, nothing else matters (except the fact that The Strokes also released an album with the word “machine” in it).