Instantly on entering the world of ‘Delta Machine’ the jagged tones of the keyboards that remain throughout the album press and pierce around you, Dave Gahan’s predictably alluring melodramatic vocal builds into the irresistible ‘Welcome to my World’ before the harsh textures of second track ‘Angel’ add a heavy menace to the mix. Gahan’s obsession with dark and religious themes continues, but serves to do fantastic justice to the visceral production of Ben Hillier throughout. First single ‘Heaven’ is revealed to be sleight of hand, smoke and mirrors hiding the true ferocity lurking within the album, but nevertheless makes for an impeccably graceful song. Fifth track ‘My Little Universe’ is where the synths are really let loose, the album already pushing in varying directions in terms of genre takes a complete departure into the hard-edged electronica of Cold Cave, with jittery riffs and irregular beeps.
‘Delta Machine’ lulls you into a false sense of security with two well-constructed guitar-focused slow-burners before cruelly letting you wander upon the spectacle of unsettling songwriting that is ‘The Child Inside’. Opening with “there is darkness and death in your eyes” and ending with “you know you should have taken you dolls to bed, but you were made to play games with your soul instead, the child inside you died;” the chill in between is unrelenting. It’s a breathtaking terror conjured but its rapidly dispelled with injection of pace of ‘Soft Touch / Raw Nerve’ a bouncing, danceable offering that layers in a driving guitar before leading to the anthemic chorus. The pace subsides, for a couple of minutes, in the waltzing brooding sway of ‘Should Be Higher’, an effortless and sombre build-up to a swirling and hypnotic pay-off. Martin Gore lends his backing vocals perfectly as he does throughout the album, creating beautiful contrasts with Gahan, as well as stunning harmonies. With the next metallic, industrial beat the call of Gahan returns with “I was there when you needed me most,” over the sinister, growling synths for ‘Alone’. There’s still time for the shadowy stomp of ‘Soothe My Soul’, a guitar-fuelled anthem that slides into closer ‘Goodbye’ which sees the fullest realisation of the blues sound Gahan had been exploring in his Soulsavers side project.
It’s clear Depeche Mode have come back with a drive, focus and determination, to raise a bar they set over two decades earlier. This isn’t a band going through the motions, it’s a band going through a violent and explosive rebirth, a return to form that’s almost unparalleled. In one hand it wields the confidence, assurance and sheer skill of an immensely successful past and in the other it holds a power and vitality that is so rare in a band that’s lasted this long. After ‘Delta Machine’, which make no mistake will rank among the greatest Depeche Mode albums (possibly even claiming the title itself), that monolith seems to loom even larger.
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