Sounds of the Universe
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 is on tour through the rest of 2009.