Spring often sees a rash of new music breaking out in time for Summer tour dates, and 2009 is turning out to be awesome for new music releases. Depeche Mode released their 12th full length album "Sounds of the Universe" in April. Before I can critique an album there are several settings I must listen to the album in to help me formulate my opinions. I have to listen to a new album alone in a darkened room with head phones (for sound quality and focus), I have to listen to it on some sort of road trip ( preferably on my way to some outdoor adventure, this helps me to attach memories to the tracks on the album, and to see what sort of mood the album sets for the trip), and I have to crank out an extended trail run through crazy terrain and forrests while listening (running to an album helps me to determine the albums groove and general cadence and all important runability). Since I have listened to the new album from DM in all three settings I can mention a few thoughts I have on this album and give my usual biased opinion.
This is a rushed post and so you will notice it is poorly written, and not too eloquent, but I thought I needed to say something while the new release is still fresh in my mind.
Sounds of the Universe
The album starts with "In Chains" a swanky groovy little tune. Gahan has some nice vocals with great back up by Gore. There is not a ton to say about this song, I would say it is not the strongest I've heard from DM. The song lacks a really good hook but it is the kind of song you might chill to.
"Hole to feed" starts with some cool electronic percussion, and some laser echos. It has a bluesy feel to it, with sporadic futuristic sound-fx throughout. The chorus has a more organic guitar and drum feel that is a nice offset to the highly electronic and stylized verses. Up to this point in the album I still feel like I haven't had my attention grabbed, I am still waited to be punched in the face with something edgy and grabby.
"Wrong" definitely grabs your attention and is a fantastic jewel found within this album. The melody and Gahan's voice paint a dark but edgy backdrop for this new DM classic. Wrong was a wise choice by the band for their first single. A great new masterpiece from the band.
"Fragile Tension" exhibits new range and pitch in Dave's voice than that of previous albums. The overall song is fairly non-descript and not the most exciting on the album. It isn't bad just doesn't knock my socks off. The song doesn't really paint a major soundscape or mood for me, it is just another mellow chill song.
I like the intro to "Little Soul". The strength of this song is in the chorus vocals and sounds. The first line of each verse is my least favorite part of the song, and it just doesn't grab me. Little Soul will most likely be one of the tracks that is quickly forgotten amongst fans. It isn't memorable.
I like "In Sympathy". The hook in the chorus with the guitar chords is catchy, and there is a nice mood and feel to the song. I like the subtle sounds and electronic pulses lurking beneath the baseline. This song most likely won't be on most peoples favorite lists but it is a good song.
"Peace" is the first song since "Wrong" on the album that strikes me as a major gem. This song is so different from anything they have released to this point. I think it is a masterpiece. I love how they sing "Peace will come to me" I enjoy both Gahan's and Gore's vocals in this song. The electronic backdrop is so varied with aspects hinting at early 80's synthpop to more industrial or even German electronic influenced sounds and riffs. Great Song!
"Come Back" is another strong track on the album. I have a confession to make I really like a remix by my favourite DM remixer Dominatrix "Come Back - Dominatrix extended Passion of Love Remix". I will critique the remix just because I like it so much. The original is great, but the remix is absolutely beautiful and has a fuller and richer sound, which sets an amazing mood. It also has fantastic elements from earlier DM songs for the careful listener. I feel Dominatrix is a musical genius. His remixes of DM's stuff often is as good, and on occasion like for this song, is better. Brilliant track and remix. I will definitely come back to listen to this track.
Space Walker - Hmmmm... A little dull I have to admit. I often love the short instrumentals but this isn't their best. It doesn't do it for me. Not much more to say.
"Perfect" starts with a nice rhythm and sound, you can definitely pick out Gore's old school synth inputs in this song. There is a nice guitar riff throughout. Gahan sounds good in this entire album. His voice is quite textured and he uses his voice as an instrument well. Gahan's voice is the most prominent or dominant aspect of many of the songs. I like this song especially because of the backing electronic music. There are a lot of layers and sounds that allow me to discover new hidden nuggets of genius throughout the song. Nice track.
"Miles Away" is an upbeat song with vocals sounding a little like Elvis in spots. Gore's backing is great. This song is stout, and though I wouldn't call it a gem, it is a great track.
At first I thought "Jezebel" fell flat on her face. I usually look forward to Gore's ballads more than any aspect of their new albums. At first listen this song has a "Napoleon Dynamite" organ and slow groove to it. As I have listened to it more though I have found Gore's vocals are great. The instrumental sections are actually really good and the electronics are spot on. Jezebel is getting more enticing with each drink from the album I take.
"Corrupt" has Gahan written all over it and could have come from Hour Glass or Kingdom. It is a sleazy bluesy night club type song. It is not in the league of "I Feel You" as far as DM's bluesy songs go but it does stand on it's own. Gahan should be proud of this track and his contribution.
General thoughts on the album - This album needs to be listened to more than once straight through, also it should be listened to while experiencing different moods before you can fully start to appreciate it. Most critiques revealed a very negative "knee jerk" reaction to the album. Some even calling it a Turd. I will be completely honest, at first listen I was a bit bored. I think the first half of the album is quite slow - lacking major hooks or grabby songs. There is nothing mind blowing in the album, but that being said I have found the "Sounds of the Universe" to have many layers that have to be listened to carefully to fully appreciate. The album achieves some richness in places but also rings hollow in other parts of the album. There was a general lack of edge.
Highlights for me are without a doubt "Wrong, Peace, Come Back". My taste in DM songs always morphs so it will be interesting to see which songs from this album make their way into my most played list in the future. There are multiple songs that rang hollow and didn't grab me at all. I would not class this album with Violator SOFAD or Black Celebration. It is a nice addition to the DM discography and is worth the purchase and all important play time will improve your opinion of the record. It becomes more enticing with each listen. The bonus tracks are quite nice including "Ghost and The sun and the moon and the stars".
General rating 6.5 out of 10. It lacked runability, it is pretty mellow. It is nice to unwind to in a dark room after a long day. Road tripability is about average.
I will rock their live concert in SLC on August 25. I can't wait, it will be interesting to see what I have to say about their new songs after the concert. DM live - there is nothing like it.