The unholy trinity of dark despair are back and all is unwell with the world
“Welcome to my world/Step right through the door/ Leave your tranquilisers behind you won’t need them anymore . . . “ Set amid a nocturne of synths and corrosive bass sounds, the opening lines of Depeche Mode’s 13th album suggest that it’s risqué business as usual for the pioneering technocrats.
Love is dark and obsessive, dependency is not a burden but a boon, and Gore, Gahan and Fletch still haunt the gloomy precincts on the wrong side of town. The unholy trinity of dark despair are back and all is unwell in the world.
However, four years after the underwhelming Sounds of The Universe, the now 50-year-olds who comprise DM may well be about to shock even diehard fans who reckon it’s high time the boys in black went back to the circuit board and stopped sounding like Mode by binary numbers.
Focussed and committed and mired in sin and interesting sex, Delta Machine buzzes with the kind of swampy blues and glittering shards of machine music that the rather wonderful title suggests. Suggestions that this album most closely resembles Songs of Faith and Devotion and maybe career high Violator can be heard everywhere. Not least on Slow wherein Dave Gahan sounds like he’s losing it (again) down at the murky confluence of the Mississippi, a creepy voodoo quality pervades the song and you can see him prowling around an empty room, a bare light bulb swinging wildly above him.
And it's Gahan who's the star of the show. He delivers a vocal comparable to The The's Matt Johnson at his most spiritually bankrupt on Angel as he seethes his way through a tale of salvation like a preacher creeping to the cross.
Musically, it's always pushing in different directions. The doomy and stately Heaven, another rehearsal of all the usual Gore/Gahan obsessions, fades out with eerie modulations, Secret to the End is a thrilling motorik onslaught reeking of fast-approaching danger, while My Little Universe is one of several glitchy, electro collages that serve as breaks from Delta Machine’s more full-blooded songs.
Gahan’s baritone takes a break on the excellent The Child Inside, a sepulchral ballad on which Martin Gore gives it maximum perv on lines like “You should have dug a little deeper there/Body parts are starting to appear and scare” against a sonorous backdrop of synth bass notes, falling rain and retro sci-fi zaps.
Soft Touch/Raw Nerve’s is swarming stadium techno, Should Be Higher is a rare plod-a-long, and the nod to Bowie's Art Decade on Alone is both cheeky and an audacious declaration of DM's lineage. Both Soothe My Soul and closer Goodbye have something of the glam industrial stomp of Personal Jesus - the dogs are unleashed and the warped chorus proves once again that love in a Mode climate is creepy and obsessive.
Working with Knife/Fever Ray producer Christoffer Berg hasn’t quite given them the exotic twist that might be expected and maybe Gore’s recent collaboration with the long-departed Vince Clark on the VCMG album Ssss can be detected on the ticking submerged techno of some of these new tracks. But Delta Machine is their most convincing album since 1997’s post-rehab comedown Ultra.
In many ways, this is an uplifting, serene Depeche Mode. As if to atone to his previous pessimism, Gore says these are the most positive songs he’s written but don’t be fooled too much - even when Gahan sings of his ultimate redemption he makes it sound like he’s facing eternal damnation.
Back in the nineties, the dark twisted soap opera of Gahan's personal life gave DM songs a genuine gravitas but even in middle-aged sobriety, nobody does urgent desire and danger quite like these lost boys.
Twitchy and nervy, big and scary, there is still something of the night - and the morning after - about Depeche Mode.