Delta Machine, the less-than-energetic thirteenth album from British synth-pop founders Depeche Mode, is only mildly disappointing. This is because stagnation is not particularly surprising when a band has been making similar music for thirty years. Any progress the band has made into the new century of electronica is not readily apparent.
The opening track, "Welcome To My World" is telling of the rest of the record: basically bland, it seems desperate for validation with insistent, theatrical vocals, saccharine string-synth, and lyrics like "And if you stay awhile / I'll penetrate your soul / I'll bleed into your dreams / You'll want to lose control." Awkwardly adolescent lyrics play a consistent role; in the second track, "Angel," Dave Gahan sings, "The angel of love was upon me, and lord, I felt so high / I swear I could've reached up, placed my hands upon the sky." Sure, they were never known for their great poetry, but it still sounds uncomfortable.
The violet-hued ambiance of vaguely dark lust makes for a pleasant listen for any Depeche Mode fan, but it certainly isn't anything new. The main problem, though, is what sounds like unprofessional editing. "Secret To The End" and "The Child Inside" drag on through too much vibrato and too little inspiration, and are only two examples of ideas that never seem to be fully realized.
In some cases, however, the minimalism works: "My Little Universe" is reminiscent of Thom Yorke's solo work with a more melodic twist. "Slow" actually sounds sexy, which can be a difficult feat if you're an aging electro-pop establishment (I can hear Lana Del Rey doing a great cover).
The fact that "Soothe My Soul" - which sounds like different lyrics were sung to a karaoke version of "Your Own Personal Jesus" - sounds so good may be proof that Depeche Mode has only mastered the music of their heyday. And I'll admit: they have mastered it perfectly. No one will argue the fact that they blazed the trail for much of today's synth pop, and we respect and welcome any new output. But the member of this band are no Thom Yorke, with his admirable ability to reinvent himself continually, and frankly, if you told me that Delta Machine was recorded in the 80s, I would believe you.
Listen to the jittery "My Little Universe" below: