After 2009’s Sounds of the Universe, the future of Depeche Mode seemed uncertain, especially when news hit that Martin Gore and original member Vince Clarke were teaming up for a new project. But this year saw the release of their thirteenth studio album. Usually when bands hit the double digits for studio releases things become mediocre and sloppy. This band is out to prove that it doesn’t have to be that way. While it’s not their best album ever, it is some of their finest work since the 2000s. Not only is it full of the brooding that the guys are known for, there is also lots of synth both dark and catchy that at times will take you back to their early days of their career.
With a music scene that’s eager to follow trends, Depeche Mode sticks with their roots by delivering that dark music with some innovative synth that fans know and love. The opening track “Welcome to My World” pretty much sets the tone for the entire album. It begins with odd sounding dirty and warped music while Gahan sings “Welcome to my world/step right through the door.” It has this really dramatic music that sounds like it’s trying to build up to a final climax, but never gets there. It’s definitely a moody song with visual lyrics like “Watch the sunrise set/And the moon begin to blush/And make it in a search/ Translucently too much.” Also, this track introduces this odd theme of heaven imagery. I’m not sure if it’s intentional, but these images and references to angels and heaven pop up in other songs here as you’ll see later.
“Angel” is an interesting track mostly due to the singing style here. It sounds weird at first, but after a while you realize it fits the tone of the song. Gahan sounds really angry and forceful while he sings “The angel of love was upon me/and Lord I felt so small.” It sounds like he’s spitting out venom the way he delivers the lyrics. It may take some getting used to, but in the end it’s really effective. Also, there’s a lot of soul in his voice, which pops up in other songs as well. The guitar riff is also great during the verse breaks. It sounds like it has some sort of effect on it to make it sound electronic and distorted. There are even times when it sounds like the riff from their other song “I Feel You.”
It seems that for this album the band wanted to include other musical influences in their songs and we begin to hear them in “Heaven.” It may be one of the most soulful things Depeche Mode has done so far. The whole thing is soaked in melancholy Blues and Soul; you can hear this the most in the vocals. Also, the hard piano that plays throughout and the somber guitar riff, really gives it this haunting sound that can get under your skin, especially when played against lines like “I will end up dust/I’m in Heaven.” “My Little Universe” seems to be a cynical song about not wanting to share your world/space with anyone else. What makes it different from the other songs is that the music sounds like it comes from an 8-bit video game. It catches you off guard at first, but it fits really well. In fact, it’s reminiscent of the synth they used on their early albums. It’s just enough synth here; anymore and it would’ve been cheesy.
Though most of the lyrics are dark and moody, some of the music makes you want to dance. “Soft Touch/Raw Nerve” is one of these examples where the music is really upbeat synth that again sounds like it comes from their first few albums. “Soothe My Soul” is the same way. The lyrics here aren’t necessarily dark, but they could be interpreted that way. It seems to be about wanting to get back to a lover because you want more of their love…or sex. But the way the song begins with “I’m coming for you/When the sun goes down” make it sound like he’s a crazed stalker. But it’s another catchy song with the guitar riff that really drives it and makes it something you can move to.
As mentioned before, the band experiments more with Blues and Soul sounds on this album. Sometimes it can be as subtle as the way Gahan sings and sometimes it’s made obvious due to the music. One place where it really shines through is “Slow.” There’s this dirty, sexy guitar riff that sounds like it’s ripped straight from the Blues. The way it sounds somber and drawn out gives it this feeling. It’s actually a pretty sexy song with Gahan sounding sensual about taking your time in the bedroom. I’m sure we all know what that means *wink wink. The closing track “Goodbye” is another song where Blues influences can be found. It begins with a Bluesy riff, but then upbeat synth comes in after each verse. Its as if they’re trying to meld these two sounds together into a bittersweet song. And interestingly enough there is yet another reference to heaven: “If you see me walking/ To the golden gates/ The turn arounds stop talking/Stop and hesitate.”
Like I said, several songs have details and references to heavenly imagery. You can even find it in different song titles, but I’m not sure if this was intentional. I don’t know if it’s supposed to be coming face to face with your mortality or if it’s supposed to show what a throwaway phrase it has become because no one knows not only whether or not it exists, but also what it looks like. I could be over thinking it, but I found it interesting how it came up in three or more songs.
Overall, the album gets 8.5/10. It may not be up there with some of the band’s greatest albums, but it’s definitely one of their best in recent times. They manage to keep the sound they’re known for, but they also expand their musical horizons by including more Blues and Soul influences in a lot of the songs. They also retain their dark, melancholy, and brooding sound and feel thanks to heart-wrenching music and bleak lyrics. This album should please younger and older Depeche Mode fans alike.