Back in black: Depeche Mode's 'Sounds of the Universe'
A new Depeche Mode album -- this time the newly minted Sounds of the Universe -- is always cause for a celebration. Albeit usually a dark one. "Hey, my dog just died ... let's break out the Depeche Mode." "Oh really? My boyfriend dumped me, so I'm feeling a little DM too!"
Our British electro-ambassadors would disagree, insisting again that they're a happy lot with a great sense of humor. Okay, guys, but your music isn't -- and that's fine by us. Misery loves company ... and company loves Depeche Mode.
Sounds of the Universe may not be the glummy goth fest of albums of celebrated yore, but a quick glance at the track listing -- uplifting titles like Fragile Tension, In Sympathy, Wrong -- tells us it's still Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andrew Fletcher at the wheel.
Here are some first impressions:
AWKWARD START: For whatever reason, the disc opens with 1 minute and 25 seconds of what I'll describe as random "sound effects and noise" before finally launching into In Chains, a lovely dirge but not quite worthy of its primo locale. [Listen] Hole To Feed is far more nourishing: "This world can leave you broken inside with nowhere to hide." [Listen]
'WRONG' IS RIGHT: Some 20 years after Blasphemous Rumours, Black Celebration and Shake the Disease, we have a new Goth anthem -- Wrong -- from the boys. "I reached the wrong ends, by the wrong means. It was the wrong plan, in the wrong hands." Gah! Where's my black guy-liner?!? [Listen]
MORE OLD-SCHOOL LOVE: Tunes like Fragile Tension, Peace and Corrupt drip with the soothing synth sounds of years long gone. It illustrates the great '80s time-space anomaly: Why be current, when the past was perfect?
WHERE ARE SIMON, JOHN AND NICK? I'm convinced that only the kids from Duran Duran could have crafted Perfect and Little Soul. These feel and sound like deep album cuts from Seven and the Ragged Tiger.
NO DANCING ALLOWED: Unlike their pop contemporaries, the Pet Shop Boys (who released the far-superior Yes this week), Depeche Mode seems to have given up completely on providing anything for the dance floor. Consider that a blessing if, like me, you eschew dance floors on weekend nights for a comfortable bean bag chair and strong elixir. But longtime fans might find it harder to swallow that tunes like Come Back and Spacewalker are the antithesis of classics like People Are People and Enjoy the Silence.
BUY OR NO BUY: I'm torn. While Sounds of the Universe doesn't feel like a traditional Depeche Mode album, it has merits on its own. I'm not sure what Universe it is that DM wandered into for this album, but it should definitely be considered deep-space exploration.