I have a hard time imagining Depeche Mode ever delivering an album that doesn’t possess some merit or pull for me. Much like Morrissey’s release earlier in the year, Sounds of the Universe holds no real surprises, no shocking reinventions. What it does offer is yet another solid entry into a massive catalog of enrapturing new wave that consistently proves the genre has life left.
Their rich, Gothic compositions, ornate and dripping in dark, brooding gravitas are ever present. Lead track “In Chains” is a shining example of just how vital DM remain. A crescendoing electronic din and drone opens the album and reminds us of their position as innovative proto electronic artists. One of their trademarks has always been to seamlessly incorporate a number of experimental elements into their dark pop entities. The decidedly experimental intro watersheds into the expansive and ever-vibrant vocals of Dave Gahan. Like master minituarists, the crew of Martin Gore and Andrew Fletcher gradually construct the sparse, looping and throbbing musical heartbeat of the track until it becomes lush, engrossing as the shroud of night, as the punctuating, interdigitated lines of various synths and guitars dot their unmistakable sound.
The skittering rhythms of “Hole to Feed” give the track a physical propulsiveness that is unmatched on the album save for lead single “Wrong.” The perfect single, it is relentless and gloriously dark and brooding, with huge growling synths to match the aggressive declarations of Gahan’s vocals. ”Fragile Tension” finds DM getting closer to contemporary purveyors of indie-dance-motivated electro; in lesser hands, the same track would have swiftly ended up trite. But this, along with the warp and warble of the longing ode “Little Soul,” turn into fully-realized, extremely personal journeys through the maturity of delivery and tasteful arrangement. ”Peace” absolutely bubbles through with a universal, metaphysical feeling of harmony, the minor key, downturning melodies constructing a more profound and complex notion of joy.
The closing half of the album seems to be missing a bit of direction, populated with diffuse, relatively ineffectual and loungey tracks like going-nowhere instrumental “Spacewalker,” penultimate track “Jezebel” and closer “Corrupt.” Only the galloping “Miles Away/The Truth Is” seems to be immune from this second-half slump in momentum. Lyrically, the album continues DM’s trend of more inward-focused and intensely personal content, not likely to churn out another track along the lines of “People are People” or “Everything Counts.”
But despite these drawbacks, DM are hardly toothless; their material resonates deeply still (even the more mediocre tracks) and at times, more than ever. Their sound is ageless, much like Gahan’s increasingly gorgeous vocals, constantly refining and perfecting. DM are a true gem, and this album holds plenty to love (and only some to skip), but never once makes you wonder why they’ve created such a large legacy of influence.
Release Date: Apr 21 2009
“In Chains” – 6:53
“Hole to Feed” – 3:59 (Dave Gahan, Christian Eigner, Andrew Phillpott)
“Wrong” – 3:13
“Fragile Tension” – 4:09
“Little Soul” – 3:31
“In Sympathy” – 4:54
“Peace” – 4:29
“Come Back” – 5:15 (Gahan, Eigner, Phillpott)
“Spacewalker” – 1:53
“Perfect” – 4:33
“Miles Away/The Truth Is” – 4:14 (Gahan, Eigner, Phillpott)
“Jezebel” – 4:41
“Corrupt” – 5:04 (8:58)
“Interlude #5″ – 0:37 (hidden song starting at 8:17)
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