A Familiar Comfort

Continuing 2013’s apparent theme: “Remind me again, Doc Emmet Brown – what year is it?” Depeche Mode have once again managed to narrowly avoid break-ups, lawsuits and overdoses, releasing their thirteenth studio album – albeit a few weeks behind schedule, and with a moderate amount of record label drama.

Thirty-five years into their career, having sold over 100 million albums and played to sold-out crowds worldwide, Delta Machine is currently available online, in stores and – in the truest Music for the Masses sense – at Starbucks.

The group’s greatest achievements simultaneously work to their hindrance; as the #1 selling electronic band. Ever… Depeche Mode bring the quintessential “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” to everything they’ve done since Violator. As a general rule, every review for DM’s efforts over the last twenty-five years has gone something like this:

It would be great if the band could somehow manage to recreate 1987 in every way, shape and form, while managing to sound completely new and exciting, and cleverly avoiding the unfortunate radio-play and popular success that came along with tracks like “Personal Jesus” and “People are People”. I want to love you, but would prefer it if you wrote something that only I will appreciate, because I’m just that cool.

Jeez – no wonder Dave Gahan has issues.

At best, Delta Machine is Depeche Mode’s strongest album since Songs of Faith and Devotion. At worst, it’s formulaic and predictable.  But if you’re a DM fan (and chances are, if you’ve read this far, you are) you know their formula is not necessarily a bad thing, and predictability is fine when you can be confident in your expectation that the 17-track, deluxe edition delivers a healthy distribution of Gahan’s intense vocals; a couple tracks to dance to (“Soft Touch/Raw Nerve”); a few overtly sexy tunes (“Slow”); one signature, beat-driven piece to emphasize that the album – like Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion – is mixed by Flood (“Soothe My Soul”); and two, wistfully tortured, yet quasi-romantic Martin Gore-led numbers (“The Child Inside” and “Always”).

“Broken”, one of three Gahan-penned songs on the album, is the first single, and offers classic DM that could believably have been promoted as a lost b-side, circa Music for the Masses, while the pulsing rhythm of “Should Be Higher” is pleasantly reminiscent of a self-possessed take on “Personal Jesus”.

Depeche Mode is touring again, and “Welcome to My World” is a dark, anthem-style offering that will doubtlessly rock the stadiums.  The song showcases Gore’s musicality and lyricism, building to a dramatic crescendo of haunting harmony that resolves into a masterfully restrained close.

As a whole, Delta Machine is a satisfying collection which long-time fans of Depeche Mode will appreciate and newcomers to the newest wave will be seduced by. While the individual tracks have retained the subdued pessimism, critical skepticism and passive aggressiveness that typifies the DM discography, the album as a whole brings a discernible maturity and confidence that works to distinguish this album from anything we have heard from the group in the last 20 years.

Fans at this year’s SXSW music fest were the first to sample live performances from Delta Machine, and the group is currently working on the European leg of their tour; unfortunately, the nearest to Vancouver that the band is scheduled to play is California, with the only Canadian dates being Toronto and Montreal.

Delta Machine is available now, physically bearing the Mute Records logo, even though the band have now severed ties with the label.