A long-time Mode fan and friend of the blog was recently invited to a private listening party for “Delta Machine” and has graciously offered to provide his track-by-track first impressions of the album. He’s requested he remain anonymous, as he is not authorized to speak about the listening. He wasn’t allowed to take notes, so the review that follows are the raw first-impressions he jotted down as soon as he could get pen to paper.
The following content was written by an anonymous friend of the blog. Opinions within are his own and do not reflect the opinions of the blog owner, who has not heard the album yet.
I recently had the good fortune of being able to preview the new Depeche Mode album, “Delta Machine”. Having had mixed feelings toward the rather tepid “Sounds Of The Universe” – their second with producer Ben Hillier – I was unsure whether they would be able to break any new ground going into the studio with him for another record, or if it was time for someone new behind the controls to keep them fresh. I was intrigued at the prospect of the return of long-time collaborator Flood – producer of arguably their two most successful and influential albums, “Violator” and “Songs of Faith And Devotion” – to the fold, this time in the role of mixing responsibilities for “Delta Machine”. Could this, coupled with their now customary four-year break between recording albums, instill the Mode’s sound with a new vitality and a long overdue return to form?
The short answer is thankfully, for the most part, yes. Those fans who were detractors of “Sounds”‘s sparseness of sound will have little to complain about on “Delta Machine” – it’s a loud, brash and multi-layered sixty minutes of music that at its heights makes for one of the most compelling offerings from the band in years, hearkening back to the moments of their thirty-year-plus career which made them great. That isn’t to say that this Machine is completely free of flaws, however. At times it almost seems as if the Basildon boys are too afraid of what might happen if they accidentally created something resembling a ‘pure pop’ song again; so when a promising track reaches the point where you anticipate a sublime middle-eight to arrive and put the finishing touches upon a new Mode classic, but then the song either moves in a completely different direction or simply repeats to fade, it’s hard not to feel as if the full potential of the new material was somewhat squandered.
However, I should remind myself that these are just my initial reactions after a single listen, and there was certainly enough positive amongst them to say that I can’t wait to be able to sit down with the album upon its release for a more ‘proper’ listen.
Here, then, are a few of my thoughts on each track. I wasn’t able to make many notes until after I’d listened to the album, so unfortunately I can’t comment too much on specific lyrics.
1. Welcome To My World
Warm synth notes get the album off to an initially quiet start. Dave Gahan’s vocal sounds dry and clear in the forefront of everything; something that’s notable about the album as a whole. There definitely seems to be a renewed confidence in Dave’s delivery, no doubt in part thanks to his performance on the recent Soulsavers project “The Light The Dead See”, and he shines on practically every song he sings. The track slowly builds to a grandiose chorus replete with strings and sublime harmonies courtesy of Martin Gore that immediately surpasses virtually everything on the last record in terms of sheer sonic depth. Flood’s presence is felt from the very beginning, it seems. A great start to the album, and I’d be surprised if this wasn’t the opening number on DM’s upcoming tour.
The track which was premiered late last year as the introduction to the band’s return to the world stage at their album and tour announcement appears here, its frantic electro-gospel with Dave as preacher serving as a taster of things to come.
The band chose this soulful hymn in the key of sorrow to be the official lead-in single to the album, and while fans were surprised at the uncharacteristic lack of punch that such a track would normally provide, I think it works far better in the larger context of the album than as a standalone.
4. Secret To The End
The first thing that I think a lot of fans will likely say to themselves upon hearing “Secret To The End” – especially right after “Heaven” – is ‘why couldn’t something like this have been the first single’. Uptempo to the point of almost-but-not-quite becoming a dance track accompanied by a simple but effective guitar melody, this one definitely bears the hallmarks of what we’ve come to expect from a good DM song. Some nice chord progression and relatively catchy lyrics written by Dave.
5. My Little Universe
As if the title itself didn’t give it away, this one does sound like it could have been an outtake from “Sounds Of The Universe”, both in its lyrical theme along with the lack of a particular melody beyond that of the vocal, which is punctuated by stabs of synth and electronic fuzz which drift in and out of the mix. It almost seems like it might have originally been written as a Martin solo, although Dave is the one who sings soft and somewhat menacing on this one. Not bad, but a little hard to shake the feeling that this may have been a better fit on the last album.
The Machine heads south into the Delta for this heavy-laden blues stomp which I have a feeling might divide fans, at least on the first listen. There are a couple of places where you could be tricked into thinking that Dave is a little out of tune due to the pitch of his vocal contrasting with the overall track. It’s quite reminiscent of the Soulsavers record, so chances are if you liked that, you’ll like this too.
If this one doesn’t become a single then there’s no justice in the world. I’m not exaggerating when I say that this one gave me shivers in the same way that “Suffer Well” (penned by Dave, as is this song) did on “Playing The Angel”, especially when the vocal harmonies of the chorus kick in. Musically, the song taps into that classic “Music For The Masses”/”Violator”-era DM sound in a way which you thought you’d never hear again, without sounding dated. A strong contender for the best track on the album.
8. The Child Inside
Martin’s only solo vocal track on the album, and sadly it’s a bit of a letdown. Although the lyrical theme of innocence lost is quite common in Martin’s writing, the execution here is a bit contrived and ultimately falls flat, at least for me. The arrangement sounds similar to the song “Jezebel” from the last album on first listen.
9. Soft Touch/Raw Nerve
Time for some sleazy Mode, with a snarling vocal from Dave and a hard, almost jarring staccato beat permeating the whole song. I felt that it would have sounded better with the addition of some kind of snare drum to punctuate it a little, which hopefully will happen if they add this one to the live set.
10. Should Be Higher
Dave’s final songwriting contribution to the record, and once again it’s a hit. A dark electronic ballad that wouldn’t sound out of place on an IAMX record, Dave’s vocals are sublime on this one, reaching some breathtakingly high notes in the chorus that we’ve rarely heard him attempt before. Would love to hear this one live, but can’t imagine him singing it night after night without bringing it down an octave or two.
Arrangement on this one reminded me a bit of Martin’s “Counterfeit 2” solo album, and although the song itself isn’t bad it seemed like a bit of a ‘DM-by-numbers’ missed opportunity. Out of all the songs on the album it was the least memorable for me.
12. Soothe My Soul
In the same way that “The Dead Of Night” from 2001’s “Exciter” had its tongue placed firmly and unabashedly in cheek, this one is an instant guilty pleasure. Its glam rock n’ roll singalong chorus is hugely fun, and seems destined to propel it into future single territory. When DM can make this kind of stadium-filler track sound so effortless, you wonder why they don’t do it more often. The only thing it has going against it is that the chorus overshadows the verses somewhat.
The blues are back for the final song with a riff a lot like “I Feel You”, albeit slower. Whoever the person is that this song is about, it’s obvious they’re not getting a second chance as the gloriously loud fuck-off-and-die chorus full of bass, guitar and metallic synths makes sure we get the message. And just in case we haven’t – as the track begins winding down and the dust has seemingly settled on the record, everything kicks back in for one final barrage of dirty blues before the Mode leave the stage.