In the wake of Violator, an album that many Depeche Mode fans and music aficionados have come to regard as the band’s masterpiece, unanimous praise seemed to break apart for the albums that followed, from the seductive melancholy of Ultra to the poppier, keyboard-heavy Sounds of the Universe. There are those who delight in Depeche Mode’s detours into minimalism and others who want the band to reclaim the dark, sexual intensity that made their earlier releases stand out from the pack.
Personally, I haven’t encountered a post-Ultra album that was consistently good. Exciter showed early promise with Dream On and Shine before sliding into generic pop territory. Playing the Angel contained a stellar first half and suffered a mediocre finish, and Sounds of the Universe (as a whole) sounded lifeless with the exception of a few good tracks. Nowadays, people have come to expect a mixed bag whenever a new Depeche Mode album drops. I can’t say I was particularly excited about Delta Machine when it was announced earlier this year, but I can always count on Depeche Mode to deliver a few diamonds in the rough, so I gave Delta Machine a thorough listen.
Surprisingly, I enjoyed Delta Machine a lot more than Sounds of the Universe, but I realized three tracks in that Depeche Mode has yet to craft an album that sustains a compelling mood the way Violator and Ultra did. From the first seconds of Welcome to My World, Delta Machine is a slow burner that pulses instead of pounds. This is clearly an album that is best enjoyed sitting down with the lights off, and even then you’ll have to give Delta Machine several listens to soak in the beauty contained within. With the exception of Should Be Higher (a song that immediately lives up to its potential), each track bleeds into the next, so it’s difficult to single out a catchy chorus or a beautiful instrumental passage right away. As soon as those attributes reveal themselves, you’ll probably find yourself hitting the replay button.
Are some people going to hate Delta Machine? Absolutely. It’s already been pegged as a boring record by some fans, but there are also fans who have embraced it. One way or another, a new Depeche Mode album always warrants a listen, and more often than not, they churn out enough good songs to make it worth your while.
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