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Depeche Mode - Sounds of the Universe

Depeche Mode, Sounds of the Universe

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

AT A time when a lot of new bands are resorting to the kitsch sound of the ’80’s for their musical kicks, it’s left to Depeche Mode to remind people that synths can be employed to darker effect with all the more thrills.

Ever since re-writing the copy book with their Songs of Faith & Devotion, Dave Gahan and company have revelled in the darker aspects of hit-making. Tracks such as I Feel You, Walking in My Shoes and – more recently – Suffer Well have set new standards in songwriting, while putting Depeche Mode out on their own. New album Sounds of the Universe is a similarly thrilling return.

Their first album in four years (since Playing The Angel), it’s brimming with confidence, darkness, poppiness and overall brilliance. Some tracks take a few listens to properly appreciate, but the mix of distorted synths, angry guitars, and melancholy melodies is as true as ever… offering both a throwback to the best of their back catalogue, as well as a firm underlining of the band’s ability to continually sound contemporary and relevant.

The album has, of course, been preceded by the powerful single Wrong, which paves the way for what follows in exemplary fashion. With its menaching chant of “wrong” and its sinister synth backdrop, it’s an exhilarating listen, complete with an utterly compulsive warped synth interweaving its way around Gahan’s emphatic vocals. It’s a track to savour, a brilliant choice for lead single, and everything a Depeche Mode fan could wish for and more.

Surrounding it are 13 tracks of similarly dark brilliance. Opening track In Chains begins with a minute’s worth of synth fuzz and distortion, before Gahan’s distinct vocals bellow out lines such as “the way you move is meant to taunt me”. It’s a slow builder that slowly layers in the electronic loops, jagged guitar riffs and slick beats. When Gahan concludes, “the way you move is hypnotising…”, you’ll be inclined to agree with the effect the track has upon you.

Hole To Feed unfolds amid a flutter of drum loops and a funky electronic bed that cuts a funky strut into Wrong, and then Fragile Tension picks up the pace a little more and comes across more radio-friendly. It’s still mired in heartbreak and tragedy lyrically, but there’s a cleaner, fresher sound that’s evident in large parts of the LP.

Further highlights come in the form of the super-charged In Sympathy, the emotive Peace, which inventively adds a techno-gospel arrangement and cascading choral refrain into the mix, and Come Back, which is as emphatic as they come in a retro I Feel You kind of way.

Perfect, meanwhile, is a near-perfect example of Depeche Mode’s ability to confound expectation and put out something surprisingly upbeat and pop-friendly, while Martin Gore drops a friendlier set of vocals over the slow, brooding Jezebel, yet another change of pace and tempo.

Final track, Corrupt, meanwhile, returns things to the dark roots which lie at the album’s core, complete with lyrics such as “I could corrupt you in a heart-beat”, to ensure that you depart Sounds of the Universe as inspired and thrilled as you entered it. Depeche Mode are back and, just like they themselves suggest, they’ve seldom sounded better.

Download picks: In Chains, Wrong, Corrupt, Come Back, Peace, Perfect

Track listing:

  1. In Chains
  2. Hole To Feed
  3. Wrong
  4. Fragile Tension
  5. Little Soul
  6. In Sympathy
  7. Peace
  8. Come Back
  9. Spacewalker
  10. Perfect
  11. Miles Away / The Truth Is
  12. Jezebel
  13. Corrupt