A Los Angelista Review: Depeche Mode's 13th Album, Delta Machine

Thirteen: A number that, depending on what you believe, brings you either good fortune or terrible luck--or signifies that a boy is mature. Depeche Mode's 13th album, Delta Machine, which made its debut on Tuesday, will leave you pondering whether, after 33 years together, Andrew Fletcher, Dave Gahan, and Martin Gore, are lucky musical saints or tormented sinners. As for maturity, don't make the mistake of thinking the word equals "boring." Depeche Mode has indeed matured but the boys from Basildon haven't lost their ability to thrill.

Having loved this band for most of my life--and fangirled all over the internet for them--I am not an unbiased reviewer. For me even sonic crap from Depeche Mode outshines most music being released today. That said, the 13 tracks--oh yes, there's that number again--on Delta Machine shimmer with a fresh yet familiar electronic grit and pulsate with a dangerous bleakness that runs both hot and cold.

The thrilling begins with the hypnotic first track...

1. Welcome To My World: "Leave your tranquilisers at home. You don't need them anymore," croons Dave Gahan in the first verse of this album opener. Indeed, when you hear the bass in this song, you're gonna chuck your stash of pills for a new habit: The Depeche Mode habit. (I hear it's sold on the black market under the code name "Delta Machine.")

Final Grade: A
Going hard in the electronic paint.
2. Angel: The way this track starts out...super bluesy, lots of deep, dirty bass, and a bit slow with lyrics straight out of the "Martin Lee Gore 21st Century Depeche Mode Lyrics" playbook ("The Angel of love was upon me")--is not at all how it ends up.

1:40 into the song the percussion changes and it morphs into an awesome drum and bass-tinged track that's clamoring for its dubstep baby to be born. I start envisioning this being remixed by Bassnectar, Gemini, or Xilent--or heck, let Lucky Date or Skrillex put some bounce and drops on this track...and then the song freakin' ends! KILLING ME! This needs an extended remix, stat.

Final Grade: A-

3. Heaven: Just when I'm all amped up by the aggressive ending of "Angel," the album version of "Heaven" brings me back to a super slooooow "honey chile, you is down South in the Delta so have some lemonaaaaade so you can go to heavennnnn" tempo. This song was the first single, but...I don't find myself wanting to play it on the regular. As part of the whole album, I'm cool to listen to it, but I admit I prefer the much more uptempo Owlle remix.

That said, lines like...
I stand in golden rays radiantly
I burn a fire of love over and over
Reflecting endless light relentlessly
I have embraced the flame forever and ever
...make a lovely piece of poetry.

Final Grade: B-
My favorite words are "angel, soul, heaven, and love."
4. The Secret to the End: When I heard the first line of this Dave Gahan/Kurt Uenala-penned track, "Oh when I look at you/I'm probably the same way too" I was like, "What the eff are you talking about, Dave Gahan?" and started laughing. But this is, ultimately, a breakup song that is full of regret at the tip of a knife. You're sorry things ended...except maybe not really. I have fallen in love with the call and response between Gahan and Gore in the chorus and the last minute of the track is sonic goodness.

Final Grade: B

5. My Little Universe: If you grew up listening to Detroit Techno or Chicago House, this song's stripped down electronic beats will feel very familiar. In fact, at around the 3:30 mark in "My Little Universe," I found myself reminded of Tyree Cooper's nearly 30-year-old acid house masterpieces "Acid Over" and "Video Crash." (Who out there knows where Tyree is these days? Can we get him to remix this?)

That said, there is such a distinct, modern freshness to this track. Perhaps it's actually acid dipped in Berlin techno, circa 2012. And the lyrics perfectly describe our disconnected internet existence:
Limited consciousness
Preserves me
It protects me
And just connects enough
To keep the wolves at bay 
Actually, can we have one of the Belleville Three remix this? That would surely be Depeche Mode coming full circle.

Final Grade: A

Kevin Saunderson, are you out there?
6. Slow: Is not a fast song. Welcome to bluesy, dark synthpop about...
I don't need a race in my bed
When speed's in my heart
And speed's in my head instead
Dave Gahan's delivery on this doesn't come off as some romantic sap--no offense to all you romantic saps out there--singing about his approach to sex. (Or rather, Gahan singing about Martin Gore's approach to sex since Gore penned the track.) Instead, Gahan sings the lyrics with a provocative inflection. "How slow can you go?" is what he seems to be asking the listener.

I wouldn't mind hearing some studio outtakes of Martin Gore singing this. Also, I might have to tell the kids that this song's about taking your time eating your dinner--you don't want to choke cos you didn't chew everything properly. Yup.

Final Grade: B

7. Broken: Another Gahan/Uenala collaboration that I'm not in loooove with, but I don't absolutely hate it either. The verses sometimes veer into Depeche Mode parody territory, but Gahan sings the chorus...
When you're falling 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.
...with an earnestness that completely saves this song.  That said, even though I've now listened to it several times, when I look at the track listing for Delta Machine and I see the title "Broken," I have a hard time immediately recalling much else I like about it. I don't hate it but if it had somehow been left off the album, it wouldn't have made much difference.

Final Grade: C+
Let me show you the world in my eyes...
8. The Child Inside: I love Martin Gore in a pretty epic way (Exhibit A, Exhibit B, and Exhibit C is EVERYTHING) but hell naw to this maudlin ass track. I gave it four listens and am still wondering what kind of conversations went on amongst the members of Depeche Mode that led to this song being included on Delta Machine. Next time, someone tell Martin to go have a seat cos the answer is "No!"

That said, when I read the lyrics as if they're angsty poetry, lines like this one from the second verse...
You know you should have taken all your dolls to bed
But you were made to play games with your soul instead
...have a little flavor to them. But then Martin moans, "The child inside you died." Sigh.

The crowd may die if he sings this during the upcoming tour. I can already hear my girl Suzy (peruse our Depeche Mode adventure from the last tour for more MLG adoration from moi) saying, "Martin Gore solo time? Bathroom break."

Actually, I'm kinda wondering, did the child inside Martin die because it got assigned 12 pages of math test prep practice as homework during spring break like my sixth grader?? Check the second verse:
Why were you always inside
On days when the weather was fine
And while we were running around
You were nowhere to be found.
Oh yes, this is soooo about standardized testing. Those poor children are dying inside because they're trapped inside on nice days wishing that No. 2 pencils had ne'er been born.

Final Grade: D- (and that's only cos I feel bad giving out F's when someone tried their best.)

9. Soft Touch/Raw Nerve: My 9-year-old son Mr. T's comment upon hearing this track was simply, "This is like Depeche Mode in the psychedelic '60s." I admire the risks DM takes in this track, and like many of the songs, the chorus shines. When they did this live on David Letterman a few weeks ago, the song seemed to have an overall nice vibe. But there is something getting lost in translation for me on this one and I can't quite put my finger on it. Perhaps it's that by the time it ends, I'm actually ready for that final note. And ready to stop hearing the words soft, touch, raw, and nerve.

Final Grade: C+

Boys in skunk hats do it better.
10. Should Be Higher: Gahan/Uenala's final collaboration on Delta Machine is a winner. It's everything that even the most curmudgeonly "They're still nothing without Alan Wilder" Depeche Mode fan has to admit works. A Quietus review of this song put it best:
There's now no doubt that Delta Machine is the the darkest and most violent Depeche Mode material in years. Lyrically, the title and lyrics of holes in infected arms and lies, succumbing to bliss and so on suggest another addition to the DM canon of songs that might be about smack, or love, or both."  
Why would the reviewer say that? Oh, how about these lines:
You should be higher
I'll take you higher
Don't be afraid
You'll just have to pray 
Final Grade: A

11. Alone: I've read Dracula more times than should be legal--I'm talking several hundred times--and when I first heard this track, I was reminded of a line the Count says in chapter two after Jonathan Harker arrives at the castle: "I love the shade and the shadow and would be alone with my thoughts when I may."

"Alone" is full of shadows and subtle musical layers. Verses like
There's a thin grey line
Between the black and the white
It's evidently hard to find at night
...are sung with a dark, slightly menacing quality. This is hands down my favorite track on the album. I've already listened to it 273 times in the past few days (and no, do not ask how I've managed to do that since I just got the CD on Tuesday, mmkay?)

Final Grade: A+
I'm coming for you...

12. Soothe My Soul: Yeah, if you click on that link, get ready for some NSFW-ness in the video. Also, the video proves that the lyrics are not, as I and some of my Depeche Mode sisters joked, about Martin Gore having the munchies and really wanting a bag of Doritos.

As for the song itself, it's aggressive, it's sinister, it's sexy, it's disturbing--what IS this really about, Martin Gore?--and it's also ridiculously catchy. With lyrics like, "I'm coming for you, when the sun goes down," we might need Dracula to show up for this track, too.

Final Grade: A

13. Goodbye: Thirteen records. Thirteen songs. The thirteenth track titled "Goodbye." It's enough to spark mass speculation that this album is the final curtain call for Depeche Mode. If so, what a ride it's been and what a masterpiece of a cowboy song to end on. The guitars bring the blues like no other track on Delta Machine, and verses like...
If you see me walking
Through the golden gates
Then turn around stop talking
Stop and hesitate
I'll be waiting up there
With my fate in the air
For you 
...are sung with such a deliberate, dark finality. C'mon, you need to sing along with me:
Wait, was I talking smack about Martin Gore cos of "The Child Inside?" Martin, I take it all back. I bow down to your mastery--and to whatever the heck is going on in your mind that leads to songs like this. Also, I wish I'd recorded Mr. T hearing this for the first time. He was all, "Oh my gawd. Oh my gawd, I have to learn to play this song on my guitar."

Final Grade: A+

And with that, Delta Machine comes to a close.

Is it their best album ever? The best since Violator forever changed the alternative electronic game 23 years ago? I'm never one to compare their records--it's like comparing Tom Selleck's style in Magnum P.I. to the modern day. No one would do that 'stache and chest hair now, but it was the ishtar back then--and Violator is not my favorite Mode album anyway.

I just know that there's something in Delta Machine that works, and for the most part, it works for me. But it will not work for all listeners. Let's be real, Depeche Mode does not do it for everyone, and not every Depeche Mode fan likes every song. And that's OK. But it's an album that makes you sit up and listen, and its influence will surely trickle down to all Coldplay-style bands who admit they've been influenced by Mode. And ask me in a year and maybe I'll be like, "I know I hated "The Child Inside" but now I think it's genius!" (Yes, it's a longshot. No, Martin Gore gives no f***s what I think.)

Overall Grade: I gave 7 A's out of 13 tracks, 3 B's, 2 C's and 1 D. So we'll say it gets a B.

Now on to getting concert tickets. I will not be mad if some nice, generous reader surprised me with some...a girl can dream!


Shok said…
Fantastic, entertaining read!!! We better get some tickets together for Santa B. performances!
Los Angelista said…
Thanks! I enjoyed writing this--I've never reviewed the entirety of one of their albums before. And yes, fingers crossed for SB! :)
ModeMan101 said…
Nice review, Liz! I love this record. Definitely the best of the "Hillogy". :)
Liz Dwyer said…
ModeMan101, Thanks for reading and AGREED, definitely the best of their work with Hillier...if this is not the end, I wonder who will replace him.
Nikole said…
What are you thinking? The Child Inside was my FAVORITE off this album! Martin's voice has always been breathtaking and the story behind this song is incredible. I think you may have misunderstood it and very badly. I swear I die every time he starts singing (even on the little parts in other songs when he is vocalizing). I read something you wrote about Martin a while back. I guess you were getting his autograph. You expressed your attraction to him and that I can agree with but, honey, your grading scale for the new album is VERY outdated. They have a new sound this year and it is unfair to use the old scale for new art. I respectfully disagree with your overall grade as well. This is the very best of Depeche Mode, right here and right now. I am going to the concert in September and I hope you find a way to get there yourself, though I fear it may be too late if you wait much longer...

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