Depeche Mode have had a long, illustrious and varied career. They used to do things like change it up, innovate and even do the odd Hit Single. It’s not like that anymore. The cynics among us may even think that a new record is merely a precursor to another world tour, and in the modern recording industry, that’s where the money is. Live Mode is still a great thing to behold, because Live Mode has all the hits. Currently Recorded Mode just doesn’t, and it could be argued, hasn’t really had them for twenty years.
If Songs of Faith and Devotion was DM’s last great album, well, in many ways that’s okay. It was a great album, their nth in a row, to be fair. They used to do great album AND great singles once upon a time. When we weigh it all up, though, there have been far more great records than duds. And the duds aren’t even really duds because they sound nothing like anyone else and utterly like Depeche Mode. They have a self perpetuating modus: they Depeche, therefore they Mode. Their crime is to always sound like Dépêche Mode. It’s also their punishment. But then, nobody does sounding like DM better than they, and they have a real knack for it. If that’s your thing you’re quids in every single time.
Delta Machine lives in the shadow of anything that’s gone before Alan Wilder quit the group back in the early nineties, but having said that, it’s not a bad record at all. It’s just there’s a feeling that maybe they’ve done this before, and maybe better. ‘Welcome To My World’ starts the album off with a deep subby bass. Gahan’s voice comes over the top, laconic and crackling. It’s a louche, dark entrée. Of course it is. The second track ‘Angel’ is what they’ve been doing for the last couple of decades. A grimy, elcectro-delta-blues growler in the industrial way. It’s a song only Depeche Mode could get away with creating, and it feels as if it’s a song only Depeche Mode would bother trying to get away with.
‘Heaven’ is in a similar vein, albeit a mid tempo number, featuring guitar and piano and more instrumentation than most of the songs here. Gahan and Gore’s vocals mesh nicely on the chorus. The synthy oscillation at the beginning of ‘Secret To The End’ suggests a dancier vibe, but despite this the tune doesn’t really take off and in fact mires itself with a grungy guitar break. ‘My Little Universe’ is stripped back and simple, and all the better for it. The voices are great again, and the minimal backing is full of classic, filthy synth sounds. ‘Broken’ is also in the minimal vein, sounding more like classic DM than anything else on this record, perhaps reminding the young uns out there how it’s done. ‘The Child Inside’ is the Gore ballad. You know the one. “There is darkness and death in your eyes,” he tremulously quivers. Yeah, you know the song. He does it on every album.
Gahan lets the tonsils get a real airing on ‘You Should Be Higher’, the chorus being a standout moment on the record, one of the few time the escape the turgid, molasses of their dark, moody oeuvre. It’s tempting to read a valedictory note in the album’s closer ‘Goodbye’. The title might even give it away. Perhaps the chaps over at DM realise themselves that this ride has finite appeal, at least on disc. But I seriously doubt this is the last we’ll hear of them. The cynics among us might say there’s a real wealth in that back catalogue, and we’ve yet to see a concise collection of the “Hits” that spans their three and a bit decades. Then of course there’s the Greatest Hits tour and merchandise, and maybe doing a few albums in MOMA or the Tate or somewhere equally iconic. Delta Machine may not be among the ones they chose to play during that hypothetical jamboree, but it’s not a bad record at all. It’s almost interchangeable with everything they’ve managed in the last 20 years. It has all that they do: black, heavy bleakness, blues tropes and Gahan’s inimitable rumble. Naturally it sounds terrific, and in ‘You Should Be Higher’ there’s a track that might even bother the right end of the charts, were they to release it.