Telegraph UK – Sounds Of The Universe Album Review
By Neil McCormick ~
Forget the sudden spate of reunions, if there is an Eighties revival under way it is because the real big guns are still firing, and still determined to be heard. Gauntlet-throwing albums from U2, the Cure and Metallica are now followed by a punchy, electrorock blaster from Depeche Mode. With its bleeping synths, distorted guitars, bluesy melodies and crunchy percussion, it sounds a lot like Violator, only without the silly Gothic posturing.
I confess to having struggled to take the Basildon bondage crew seriously in the past, perhaps because they seemed so determined to embrace the dark side, like Star Wars nerds posing as Darth Vader. Martin Gore’s lyrics exhibit a tendency towards comical prosaicness, somehow emphasised by the perkiness of his poppy melodies and David Gahan’s often bombastic vocals. Yet if the slightly tongue in cheek album title implies almost cosmic hubris, the content suggests a kinder, gentler Mode.
These are songs of inner struggle and contemplation, verging on hippy spiritualism. “There’s something mystical in our genes,” we are informed on Fragile Tension, while Little Soul has Gahan “channelling the universe that’s focusing itself inside of me/the singularity.” Out from under the self-destructive shadow of heroin, Gahan’s baritone is starting to sound a little more lived-in and expressive, softer in places where he was formerly inclined to bluster.
The space-age themes suit the plastic soundscapes, tension being maintained between the often slightly disharmonic synths, atonal percussive notes and beautifully harmonised vocal melodies. On the instrumental Spacewalker, it all goes a bit Jean-Michel Jarre. The Gore-sung Jezebel sounds like a cocktail lounge crooner on Mars. Perfect is an alternate dimension torch ballad as melodramatically poptastic as vintage Human League. What is remarkable is how sci-fi Depeche Mode still sound nearly 30 years on. The sonic vista of rock remained static throughout the Nineties, even regressing slightly with Britpop. Depeche Mode’s electro arrangements, every sound altered and treated to create a unique sonic palette, shows up the imaginative constraints of most guitar-based rock.
Their 12th album suggests a route back to the future.
Telegraph Rating: * * * * *
Source: Telegraph UK