Depeche Mode ‘Sounds’ off

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By Corinne Love

Cafe Depeche (Capital Records)

By Corinne Love

Depeche Mode is up to some old tricks disguised as new ones.

The band could have easily been one of those 80s bands that fall to the waste-side, appear on VH1’s “Bands Reunited,” or take years to follow up with something like “Chinese Democracy.”

Depehce Mode has survived a lead singer recovering from drug addiction, changes in the musical line-up and not to mention the ever changing soundscape that is the music industry.

And yet, despite all of this and a career that’s charting over twenty years, Depeche Mode, or “DM” as fans call it, have produced a record that’s strikingly retro and simultaneously modern.

While many former 80s musicians are releasing new material these days, and everyone’s poised for a comeback, Depeche Mode has consistently released strong albums.

“Sounds of the Universe” follows-up 2005s “Playing the Angel,” which was a steady release for the group from Essex, England.

It was a mellow release with a handful of arena-rock staples and an assortment of late-night listeners.

“Sounds of the Universe” follows a similar pattern.

In a 2008 Rolling Stone article, the band said that it was returning to a more toned-down approach to recording and that some vintage style synths would be used to mark a return to its earlier sound.

A sound that has inspired acts like the Killers, the Bravery and anything that makes good on a synthesier’s promise.

What listeners are greeted with on the twelfth album in the DM catalog is, literally speaking, a nocturnal release that takes a couple of listens to grow on.

Unlike previous albums like “Violator,” “Black Celebration” and “Music for the Masses,” there aren’t a lot of singles on “Sounds of the Universe” that jump out and grab listeners or lead them to the dance floor immediately.

Depeche Mode’s sound has matured and takes a lighter approach over the years. The band is too clever to try and recreate past successes.

While a sense of immediacy may be missing from “Sounds of the Universe,” it’s made up for in ambience and consistency.

Depeche Mode, or as some have jokingly referred to as “Depress Mode,” has been known to create songs out of the most random of influences.

Electronic blues, cabaret and odd pop have worked their way into the Depeche Mode cookbook of singles, and on “Sounds” it’s definitely no different.

The album’s opener, “In Chains,” a nearly seven minute segue into the rest of the album is by far front man Dave Gahan at his sultriest.

He croons and swoons over a slow-building rhythm that picks up sexiness as it continues over muted synthesizers and a soulfully strong vocal performance by Martin Gore towards it’s finale.

Gore, the core songwriter for Depeche Mode, has the ability to write catchy tunes that explore Depeche Mode’s tried and true themes of love, love-lost and isolation.

Whereas Gahan is the front man with the robust baritone, Gore is the quieter man behind the scenes singing at an angel’s pitch.

His voice is highlighted on the bizarre “Jezebel,” an eerie torch song with strange noise effects and a score that calls to mind “The Man From U.N.C.L.E” with its spaced out bossanova.

This is one of the songs that get better with the usage of repeat.

In order to hear most of the subtle nuances of “Sounds of the Universe,” listeners will have to listen to it over an over again.

The flagship single “Wrong” is perhaps the most assertive track on the album.

It hooks listeners in with the strange, if not game-show style chorus of “Wrong!”

In similar vein to “In Chains,” “Wrong” is familiar territory, with truly sublime backing vocals by Gore, it’s short and sweet.

Many of the songs on “Sounds of the Universe,” to seasoned Depeche Mode fans, will sound strikingly familiar-if only they could pinpoint which song exactly.

One of a handful of the more up-tempo tracks, “In Sympathy” has a guitar line and tempo of several Depeche Mode songs blended together.

It’s a standout for the simple fact that Gahan’s vocal delivery adds new pizzazz to what else could have been lost amidst the other singles.

“Miles Away,” with its twang-y electronic blues guitar and skittering sound effects, is a beefed up “Dream On” from “Exciter,” another mellowed out Depeche Mode album.

If fans want to chill out, “Sounds” is ideal.

“Perfect,” “Little Soul” and “Fragile Tension” all exemplify the current sound Depeche Mode has perfected since the departure of Alan Wilder who produced many of the band’s loud and arena-rock styled singles.

Drawing out “Sounds of the Universe” is the very clever, tongue-in-cheek “Corrupt.”

It is built upon the backing of handclaps, louder guitar noise and the combination of Gahan’s vocal charisma and Gore’s knack for perversity.

It must be mentioned here that in previous albums Gahan has almost always sang exclusively in monotone.

On “Sounds of the Universe,” he expands his vocal chops, singing with the experience of someone who knows the pitfalls of a rock’n’roll lifestyle; but he doesn’t sound weathered, he sounds invigorated.

While “Sounds of the Universe” adds nothing new to the repertoire of Depeche Mode songs, the strength of the band’s history is enough to satisfy older fans as well as pique the interest of ones just beginning to address the band.

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