With Depeche Mode’s forthcoming Delta Machine, David Gahan, Andy Fletcher and Martin Gore recall their greatest late-1980s successes. That they are largely no worse for the wear, in particular Gahan, is a wonder to behold.
The opening “Welcome to My World” screeches and scronks, creating a nervy foreboding, but listen more closely, and Gahan — oaken at times with age, but still singing with a familiar honeyed nihilism — can be found once more dashing toward salvation.
This is a story, of course, that played out in the tabloid coverage of his substance-abuse problems, but more particularly was always the thing that made Depeche Mode something more than the X-club soundtrack they might have been caricatured as during a stirring run from Some Great Reward in 1984 through 1987′s Music for the Masses and into 1990′s Violator.
Others very clearly influenced by Depeche Mode have followed, from Trent Reznor to Frank Ocean, but none have so perfectly combined all of these disparate elements. That is to say: sounds equal parts light and shadow, despondent and yet fiercely engaged. Delta Machine fulled reanimates everything that made them one of the most intriguing groups of their initial hitmaking era, finding Depeche Mode enveloped once more in a spiraling darkness even while doggedly pursuing the purpled arrival of a new day.
“My Little Universe,” with its itchy loops and pre-dawn vocals, might represent the bottom of the proverbial barrel — as closed off, empty and separate as anything on Delta Machine, like a particularly jagged Gahan diary entry fed through a synthesizer. But the song won’t settle for something so straight-forward as a next-gen singer-songwriter confessional. Gore and Fletcher continue adding layer upon layer of sounds, creating a monument to pain, to diffidence, to strange obsession — segueing directly into the tangy, sado-masochistic electro-blues of “Slow,” and then into the sun-sharded forgiveness of “Broken.”
Such is the sweep and drama of Delta Machine, which moves with a deft, writerly propulsion from the confrontational, frankly relentless “Soft Touch/Raw Nerve” to the comforting but deeply wounded “Should Be Higher,” to the gritty, utterly desperate sensuality of “Soothe My Soul.” It all leads, perhaps inexorably, to the skittering, hallucinogenic “Goodbye” — which sounds, by turns, like a meditation on acceptance, a kick-in-the-ass send off and a weird fever-dream about loss.
As with every other overheard confession here, it’s both redemptive in its blunt honesty and bracing in its unwillingness to pander to expectations, to the emotions you think you ought to feel. This thinking person’s dance band hasn’t been this thoughtful — or this compulsively listenable — in years.