CD Review: Depeche Mode — Sounds of the Universe

DepecheModeSounds Depeche Mode

Sounds of the Universe

Mute/EMI

By Stephanie Roman

Considering the proliferation of '80s cover bands and modern artists
clearly influenced by the synth-pop, new wave and dance music of that
decade, '80s nostalgia continues to draw our attention. This
summer, we find a diverse cross-section of '80s bands from Jane's
Addiction to Specimen reuniting for note-worthy performances. What
makes Depeche Mode any different from their contemporaries? Do they
have anything to say that would be relevant in 2009? 

Dave Gahan, Martin Gore and Andrew Fletcher -Depeche
Mode's lineup since 1995 -have continued to tour and release new albums
quite regularly over the years since their rise to fame. And judging
from the 12,000 fans who assembled for the band's recent live
performance for the Jimmy Kimmel show, an audience still looks forward
to hearing what they have to offer. The band's latest, Sounds of the Universe, was
released on April 21 in the USA, and includes art direction,
photography and cover design by long-time collaborator, Anton Corbijn.

The album begins with a chorus of synthesizers that builds into the
first track, "In Chains." Lyrics revolve around signature Depeche Mode
themes – temptation, desire and restraint. Both Gahan and Gore
sound strong together next on "Hole to Feed," and Gahan's voice really
deserves praise throughout the entire album. We don't
often hear performers such as Gahan or Peter Murphy who demonstrate how
years of discipline and dedication to their craft can do wonders
to maintain a singer's vocal prowess. On Sounds of the Universe, Gahan's voice remains clear and his vibrato resonates flawlessly without having to rely on heavy vocal effects.

The album's one-two punch comes when the first single, "Wrong" is
followed by "Fragile Tension" – one of my favorites so far. This is an
upbeat pop song balanced perfectly by sweeping vocals, a driving synth
beat, and a melodic guitar riff that brings it all together. We could
have played this one for the cheeky teens dancing in the tour bus on
the DM 101 video!

Conversely, a slower, late-Beatles vibe is found on tracks
like "Little Soul," where Gahan croons, "I'm channeling the universe
that's focusing itself inside of me." On "Peace" the same dreamy
quality is found, and an unusual lyric rhythm that could have been
borrowed from John Lennon's "Across the Universe." The message and
positivity of "Peace" is welcome in light of today's tumultuous
headlines, and would surely make Mr. Lennon smile: "I am walking love
incarnate … I'm going to light up the world." Quite a different image
of Dave Gahan from the troubled former drug-addict of the Violator
era (though it should be noted that this song was written by Martin
Gore). The album could have done without some of the filler that fans
have heard before like "Spacewalker" and "Jezebel," the latter of which
I truly thought was the title of a previous throwaway DM song from
either Exciter or Songs of Faith and Devotion.

For the most part, Sounds of the Universe hits the mark, and
it's worth picking up for those of us who still embrace the thrill of
actually "picking up" an album or CD. You downloaders should be good to
go with about four or five of the best tracks. As long as the
band continues to offer more of these well-crafted songs, they will
continue to inspire future generations, pack venues, and represent more
of the master than servant of the nostalgia tours.

Depeche Mode plays Lakewood Amphitheater in Atlanta on September 1,
2009.

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