Guest Post: Full review of Delta Machine!

As many of you are already aware, Delta Machine listening parties kicked off last week. Twitter has been a-flutter with succinct comments from journalists, and both Clash Music and Spin have provided short but more detailed reviews. All have provided some exciting insight into the sound of the record, but have been short of track-by-track analysis. No longer – Samuli (a.k.a. Eldridtch @  Home) recently attended one of the press listening parties in Finland, has written up a detailed review, and agreed to allow me to repost it here. It’s long, but worth reading every word. Settle in and enjoy!  – Amanda

The following content was written by Samuli K.

Disclaimer 1: remember that I have heard this only once – and while I usually detect what I like or not like on the very first hearing, these are still first impressions.

Disclaimer 2: I had no lyric sheet so the lyrical quotes may not be totally correct

Disclaimer 3: I loved PTA and disliked SOTU, so if your opinions vary from mine concerning those two albums, you might disagree with very much of what I write.

Sooo… overall impressions first. For all the talk about Flood being on board and of Martin describing the album as ”a mixture of SOFAD and Violator”, the way that I hear it is that it’s very much the third part of the Ben Hillier album trilogy. The sound is cleaner and harsher than on PTA, but some overall problems still persist. But like Mark1975 wrote, PTA was in many ways a tribute to DM’s past, so there are similar nods to past glories scattered all over the album.

One of those problems is the much-talked about lack of middle-eights, which really plagues especially the first half of the album. I’ll mention it here, because otherwise I would moan about it on almost every other track review. It’s frustrating because there are some excellent DM songs on Delta (Welcome To My World and Secret to The End to name a couple), which are separated from the future classic status only due to the lack of somebody making them go the extra mile.

Another thing I’ll mention here, that I don’t think DM is capable of providing us with anything truly new and original. So Delta Machine won’t really give us anyhting totally new, but otherwise it shows a reinvigorated band at the top the game of being a 32-year Depeche Mode. And at its best moments (of which there are a lot) it provides the old themes and subjects with new twists.

1.   Welcome To My World.
A soft techno pulse makes one wonder if this is an instrumental like some predicted, but then Dave comes in: ”Welcome to my world / step right through the door”. More like the slow build of In Chains instead of the burst of energy that was APTIUT, this is an intelligent and promising start which leads into a spine-tinglingly wordy and ascendant chorus in which Dave half-promises and half-threatens to ”penetrate your soul” and ”bleed into your dreams”. We are instructed to ”watch the sunlight fade” and ”see the moon begin to blush” and blimey, this is great indeed – like WIME pojected into the 2013. After the second chorus I’m ready to be swept off my feet, but – blah – once again the song bleeps and bloops out of sight instead of giving us anything more. Still, a very good start.

2.   Angel
The one we already know. I didn’t want to overplay it before the album and because I wasn’t blown by it, it was easy to save it for the album. So I’ll just say that I spot no major deviations from the track we’ve heard.

3.   Heaven.
I’ll just say that as a single it’s quite underwhelming, but it provides a welcome respite from all the harsh electro on the album.

4.   Secret To The End
The album picks up with an uptempo electro stomp, spiced with some dirty guitar. For once we have a proper chorus (hooray!) which may look silly on paper but works intensively accompanied by music: ”The problem should’ve been you / (”should’ve been you”) / (”would’ve been you”)/ (”could’ve been you”) / If it hadn’t been me / (”hadn’t been me”) / (”hadn’t been me)” – Martin and Dave shouting the latter parts of the chorus on top of each other. I suspect it’s a Dave track, because out of the first six ones it’s the one I can’t instantly recognize as pure Gore. But it’s not a sign of disrespect, this is a strong song. Some very It’s No Good –style sounds in the instrumental section after the second chorus.

5.   My Little Universe
With ”My little universe is expanding” and ”beautiful emptiness surrounds me” being among the opening lines and pointillistic beats peppering the sparse soundscape, this sounds very much like a Martin track – but it’s still sung by Dave for some reason. Short sharp bursts of melody break the sonic surface here and there, but this is still very much ”experimental DM” in the style of Macro and Counterfeit 2. The chorus is surprisingly non-melodic and solipsistic: ”Here I am king / I decide everything / I let no-one in / no-one”. I like this a lot, but I’m sure this will be among the more controversial tracks of Delta. The tempo picks up a bit towards the end in the style of IAMX’s Music People, but to nowhere as dramatic an effect.

6.   Slow
After a couple of very electronic tracks, the blues influence is back with a bang: ”Slow, slow, slow as you can go / I want my senses to overflow” the song starts with its chorus-substitute (this is one of the songs, where one can’t really say what is verse and what is chorus). The guitars drawl more traditionally than usual and while some might moan the lack of a catchy hook, I personally love this and find some good couplets here and there: ”I let the world keep its colourful pace / I prefer to just study your beautiful face”.

7.   Broken
After a couple of perhaps less commercial tracks, the single-writing DM is back with a bang. This is an instant hit with me: sound-wise and thematically between the haunting but intense Little 15 and the mysterious speeding drama of Behind The Wheel. The chorus is by far the most catchy and commercial on the album: ”When you fall in / 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”. For the life of me, I can’t decide whether this is Dave or Martin – because I love it, I feel it’s Mart, but writing down those lyrics (which once again work much better while sung) I can’t help feeling it’s Dave. Well done, whoever! They were insane to not put this out as the first single.

8.   The Child Inside
The soft baby steps of Intrespectre-y synths pitter-patter in so this must be the first instrumental, right? But no, Martin follows them with a truly creepy lyric, with the first verse ending with something like ”you really should have dug a little deeper / the body parts that you’re beginning to find / are starting to scare the child inside away” (I most likely got the phrasing wrong, but that’s the definitely the general idea). Brr! Martin’s tremolo is also getting more advanced, the older he gets. This is not one of those lush Martin ballads many of us (me included) wish that he still wrote, but this is still atmospheric and rather brilliant. ”You really should have taken all your dolls to bed with you”.

9.   Soft Touch / Raw Nerve
Rather curiously, so far Delta has been rather slow or midtempo, but with this track the album speeds up instead of calming down – which is what albums usually do two thirds in, right? The song opens  with Dave barging in like a brute: ”Have I got a soft touch? / Have I got a soft touch? / Or is my radar that off?” Well, frankly, yes. The overall mood is quite Better Days, but the song is softer than that and a more melodic ”Oh brother, give me a helping hand” part gives the song some inventive dynamics. Unless I’m totally wrong, this even has a middle eight. Hooray! I’m sure I’ll love this after more listens.

10.   Should Be Higher
Another stomper, this time Gary Glitter on amphetamine being the main influence. I’m not wondering why this has been rumoured as the second single: it does build up nicely and the chorus works well in a rather epic, non-DM style. Dave’s vocals are mixed curiously low in the chorus and his emotive singing reminds of HIM’s Ville Valo here. The rather hopelessly naff chorus lyrics: ”Your lies are more attractive than your truth / Love is all I want / Your lies are written down there in your heart / Love is all I want” reveal that this must be a Dave track, but otherwise it’s a goodie.

11.   Alone
Another potential uptempo single with the lyrics playing the usual DM game of love-as-religion: ”I am your father, your son, your holy ghost and your priest”. The chorus ”I couldn’t save your soul / I couldn’t even take you home / I couldn’t have played that role / Alone” has hints of an epic backing melody that I wish would have been taken further. But yes, another track, another hit.

12.   Soothe My Soul
The first 11 tracks have taken us past the 50-minute mark and perhaps that’s where Delta should have ended, since with SMS the album finally runs out of steam. This is cliched sub-Corrupt stuff indeed: ”I’m coming for you when the sun goes down / I’m coming for you when there’s no-one around / I’ll come to your house and break your door / I’m coming for you because  I need to feel your skin”. All this because, as the chorus goes, ”there’s only one way to soothe my soul”. All this is very naff indeed and perhaps a bit sad coming from fifty-something men. I must say the actual tune is not that bad in its b-side-y way, but otherwise than that, this is the one true misstep on the album. I truly hope this is a Dave song, because this kind of laziness just shouldn’t be expected from Mart at this stage.

13.   Goodbye
After hiding in the background for a while, the blues guitars make a comeback – this time in a Pleasure Little Treasure style. The vowels are very stretched in the vocals, so I had a hard time writing anything comprehensible about them – but the chorus goes ”Goodbye again”, the ”again” perhaps soothing down those who try to read too much into the title. The track has a false ending and them crashes back with an explosive last minute. This is not a bad song, and definitely a grower, but with Soothe My Soul breaking the album’s spell, this feels a bit unnecessary. Perhaps they should have called it quits while they were still ahead.

Amanda

Amanda is an enthusiastic, globe-trotting Mode fan who discovered the band in late 1998. Although she often feels like she got a late start in the Depeche Mode's career, she's survived nearly 20 years of the fandom, five new albums and multiple meetings with her love for the band intact (and stronger than ever). Amanda is a life-long creative, a classically trained graphic designer, working professionally as a User Experience Designer for one of the world's largest technology companies. When not at work or traveling for Depeche, she enjoys character illustration, comics, movies and Japanese Culture. And cats. Lots of Cats.

  • Phil

    An interesting article… Really, can’t wait to hear the whole album. And about “Soothe My Soul” – don’t worry people. If it’s the only misstep on the album, I’ll be glad about it. In my opinion, SOTU had a lot of missteps. But still, it’s just my opinion.

    • Benedict

      i kinda like Soothe My Soul. I find it very Depeche-Moody. The 2 songs that will need to grow on me are the martin-sung “The child inside” (what happened to the good old martin ballads?) and the experimental My Little Universe.

  • Marc

    Sotu was a fantastic album ! a total roundup what they’ve achieved in/over 30 years, Pta was too easy made though but to be honoust, the last 15 years was a hard way for the guys to find the right way to go, after Alan left them, on the other hand they did it well enough; with Alan still on board they were long gone off the road , I’m sure of it, I do respect Alan nowadays still, but his creativity is swallowed by his craftmanship,For always…devoted

    • Victor

      I definitely share your opinion!! :))

  • Elyse H

    I love the album art…probably why I already had to pre-order it:) http://smarturl.it/itunesDM

  • Pingback: I’m in Heaven! « Panos World

  • Phet

    I love Daves songs and think he is a great songwriter. But it seems like you don’t like his songs and that it shining thrue in your article. But in overall a good article. Will be intresting to hear it myself.

  • Petri

    “Perhaps they should have called it quits while they were still ahead.” Summarizes Depeche Mode perfectly.

  • http://www.facebook.com/ryan.lea.92 Ryan Lea

    Am I the only DM fan that loved SOTU and found PTA to be a total disappointment??

    • Vincent Riffonneau

      I dont think PTA is a disappointement, there are some very good tracks on it IMHO, but definitely SOTU is the best LP of 2000’s DM 🙂

    • nightwatch4773 whits

      To me PTA was the first album since Violator that I could listen to every track on the album. After the enervated exciter I was worried about PTA but what I got was DM just kicking it in full gear. All four singles just rocked some quiet some heavy and Lilian wow. The album sounded fresh and new with DM never losing their orginal 80’s synth signature. My favorite album by far!!! When SOTU came out it sounded dated to me. Wrong was just too repetitive and peace sounded like something off construction time again ( my worst album ). The only two tracks I liked on the album were Hole to feed and miles away because they sounded like they could’ve been on PTA. Maybe because I am a huge fan of the mode from Violator onward and tend to like the grittier tracks rather the lighter smoother 80’s songs. To me SOTU just sounded like it shouldve been released around Some Great Reward era and not in 2009 and to come off the heels of the stadium stopping PTA was just too much for me to handle. I like Delta Machine first track Heaven sort of slow like precious and I hear they will release a stomper for the second single.

    • Benedict

      They both have some good songs and a lot of disappointing ones. But overall, I-too-preferred SOTU. Fortunately, Delta Machine sounds better than those two. Best album since Ultra IMO.

  • http://twitter.com/nigelx31 Nigel Ridpath

    I always worry about whether it’s wise to read reviews before hearing an album, but with DM, Ii have too voracious an appetite!!
    I played PTA recently and re-confirmed that it is, for me, the worst DM album – that accolade being held by Ultra for quite some time for me.
    Well, DM’s DM is pre-ordered (deluxe version, obvs!) and we’ll have to see later in the month. Whatever, I’m sure the gig in London in May will be as brilliant as all the other DM gigs I’ve seen since 1983 ….

  • Benedict

    Should Be Higher is already my favorite DM track since… the Ultra era? There are some very good songs on this album and like all DM, i’m sure they will all grow on me after repeated listenings. Martin said it would sound a bit like Violator And SOFAD… I can’t see that. A mix between SOFAD, Ultra and SOTU is more like it. Uneven, yet very enjoyable.