(Planet Me)
Monday, March 25, 2013
DEPECHE MODE delta machine

Twenty years ago this week, Depeche Mode released their masterpiece - "Songs Of Faith And Devotion" : two decades and several albums later, "Delta Machine" comes into view. As a trio, aided and abetted by a fleet of collaborators, Mode have remained defiantly the same yet always different. On first glance, this - their thirteenth studio record - suffers from the same quandry as any record from an artist who has been releasing material for 35 years would have : is there anything new to say? Is this just a case of saying the same old stuff slightly differently?

And, of course, when you are at this stage in your career - that is, having made as many records, and been active longer than, Pink Floyd - what is there to make the new record any good? It's not as if you are picking up 'new' fans : and it's not as if you have 'hits' any more because CD singles sell around 12 copies ; and its not as if there's anywhere to take your career, because you headline stadiums, so... why? And the answer is.. because you must. Because this is what you do. Because this is who you are. Because Depeche Mode make music and play shows and release records and do moody videos, and that is how they see the world.

As any artist might say, we see the world a certain way, and everyone of our experiences, all of our art, is merely a reflection of how the world looks to it, be it good, bad, ugly, and because how someone else sees the world may make the world seem different to us. Feargal Sharkey's " A Good Heart", and "You Little Thief" are - trivia fans - two songs written by two songwriters who used to be in a relationship with each other, and tell the two sides of each story. Whereas here, with the strangely titled "Delta Machine" - indicating the mix between the Delta Blues, and machine-led electronics that gives DM their peculiar brand of miserabilism - the band explore the same things they always have ; desire, power, the subjigation and joy of relationships, the world of love and loss and lust and longing and all the points inbetween : with an album that reminds me of nothing so much in tone as 2001's "Exciter", but with far stronger and livelier songs. Certainly "Soothe My Soul", "Raw Nerve/Soft Touch" and "Secret To The End" are the equal of anything they have released in the past 20 years. As with all DM albums, it needs time, and love, and attention. Gone are the days of an instant, gripping first listen : what makes this record, like their others, so enduring and successful, is the fact that it is not a record that reveals all its pleasures in the first listen. You must take this album, and let it become part of you, enjoy the light and shade, the rough and the smooth, the faith and the devotion, and let it absorb you. And then, only then, can a song like "Should Be Higher" can explode : Dave hasn't sung better on this in his life. Not even on "Condemnation".

Lead single "Heaven" is not really a hit as such ; the slowest, and least arresting DM lead single in the canon since... ever. Only 1998's "Only When I Lose Myself" is anything so modest. But repeated exposure helps. It is a great song, but not a pop hit.

On first listen, its not a bad record - but not a great one either. DM will never scale the heights of genius they had in the 1990-1993 Imperial phase where artistically they were invincible. But should you need to grow old, and need to make records, and need to carry on, you cannot ask for anything more : by most people's standards, this is a great record. But by the Mode standards, this is another record. Another very very good record. But perhaps not their best. The nearest relative I can think of is 2001's underwhelming "Exciter", which sees the jedi mindmeld of blues and misery with harsh electronics, not entirely successfully. Whereas that record still in my mind is the weak link in their body of work, this one sees DM trying the same attack, and this time, succeeding completely and utterly.

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