March 24 saw the US release of electronic pop legends Depeche Mode’s 13th studio album, Delta Machine. The album was touted by primary Mode songwriter Martin Gore as being, “a cross between Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion.” These were some big words coming from a band who enjoyed their greatest success 20 years ago (and counting). For those not entirely in the know, 1990’s Violator is largely regarded as Depeche Mode’s multiple-hit-single masterpiece, while its follow-up, 1993’s Songs of Faith and Devotion was their artistic pinnacle, also spawning multiple hits. So essentially, the 51-year-old Gore had promised the bewilderingly still-large Depeche Mode fan base that their newest album would be a combination of their two greatest critical and commercial triumphs. Didn’t the Stones say that about their last album? And U2? And even our own Aerosmith?
What sets Depeche Mode apart from the rest of the aforementioned bands o’ granddads is a subtle, but very important one: the guys are still friends. There are no separate interviews wherein a lead guitarist sits and talks about how great it is to work with his singer, who rides in a separate limo. None of the current members have ever quit nor even trash talked one another in the press. Is Delta Machine a record I could listen to more than once? Absolutely. And that’s more than I can say about Aerosmith or U2 or whomever else’s latest.Instead, Depeche Mode tend to conduct interviews as a unit, wherein a genuine rapport becomes immediately apparent. Jokes are made at one another’s expense, but there’s a clear spirit of good sportsmanship involved. The members publicly compliment one another, and even (gasp) occasionally look at one another during live shows. There’s no mistaking the fact that Depeche Mode is quite unusual as an older band if only for the fact that they can tolerate one another’s presence.
So where does this leave the music? Good, but not great. I already own both Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion in multiple formats, so bridging the two seems redundant to me. Delta Machine does enjoy some fine songwriting from both Gore and singer Dave Gahan on such songs as “Heaven”, “Broken”, “Should Have Been Higher”, and indeed others. Is there anything here that compares with Depeche Mode’s best work? Probably not. Is Delta Machine a record I could listen to more than once? Absolutely. And that’s more than I can say about Aerosmith or U2 or whomever else’s latest. By watching videos of Mode in the studio working on this record, it was clear that they were having the time of their lives. I’m sure even they’re probably aware that they’ve made better albums, but they seemed to be focused more on enjoying synthesizers and each others’ company. It might be a stretch to say this, but perhaps there’s something to be said about being able to tolerate the people you choose with which to make music.