Depeche Mode haven't released an artistically resonant album in a very long while. Since the low-key efforts of 1997's Ultra, it seems the band have been content capitalizing on their few self-defining signifiers instead of trying to explore uncharted territories. In other words, their relevance in the pop realm these days is questionable at best. Yet, compared to other bands who had their start in the early '80s post-punk free-for-all and are still active today (think U2 or The Cure), it seems their influence is everywhere right now. Artists like Footprintz, Cold Cave, Fairmont and Matthew Dear all bear the imprint of the synth pop mammoths.
It's fair to say the long-time fans will find solace in the fact that Delta Machine, the band's 13th album, is their most accomplished and most daring offer since the Mark Bell-produced Exciter. Setting aside the lukewarm first single, "Heaven," the album's introductory salvo ("Welcome To My World," "Angel" and "Secret To The End") is striking, especially in how crisp the drums sound: for the first time since they started collaborating with him on Playing The Angel, Ben Hillier's indier-than-thou production seems to leave room for long-time collaborator Flood on the mixing board, and the latter's electronic sensibility is showing all over. On "My Little Universe" and "Alone," they combine the gloomy electronic minimalism of A Broken Frame with David Gahan's I-was-dead-for-two-minutes gravitas.
Delta Machine isn't perfect—for one, Gahan still has that annoying tendency he developed on their last two albums to let his syllables linger longer than necessary, thus accentuating the blues-y vibe the band have been flirting with since "Personal Jesus." But considering the odds, it shows an animated and still vigorous trio worthy of its semi-legendary status. On the bonus cut "Always," they take Adult.'s astringent stabs and mix it with an ethereal finale worthy of M83's most contemplative moments, daring to show their heirs how spunky synth-pop is done, and reminding themselves in the process.
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Tracklist: Depeche Mode - Delta Machine 01. Welcome To My World
04. Secret To The End
05. My Little Universe
08. The Child Inside
09. Soft Touch/Raw Nerve
10. Should Be Higher
12. Soothe My Soul
01. Long Time Lie
02. Happens All The Time
04. All That's Mine