Depeche Mode – Sounds Of The Universe Review

Depeche Mode

Sounds Of The Universe

4/10

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Rock’n’roll has always mixed with the darker and more dangerous sides of life; sex, alcohol, drugs and so on, and to be fair we’ve lost a large number of icons to these said vices: Hendrix, Cobain, Morrison, Bonham etc. But has drugs and alcohol had a part to play in electronica? Silly question really, electronica being a horrible throwback to late-90’s post-rave hedonism, but nobody told Depeche Mode. In their mid-80’s heyday they were the epitome of dark and twisted synthesised post-punk, head honcho Martin Gore’s drug-fuelled antics being splayed over the tabloids almost as fast as their records were selling. 2005’s Playing The Angel saw a return to the darkly influential Depeche Mode of old, sans-drugs but still pouting the same heady resonance, but their latest effort – Sounds Of The Universe – is still desperately mining the same self-flagellating, guyliner-wearing innuendo that unfortunately just does not wash in this era of self-flagellating, guyliner-wearing innuendo that is cringing inconsistently in the charts.

Angst used to be such a rare thing, until Nirvana started to whore the phrase in the early 90’s, but try turn on the Top 40 these days and you either get 1) Gangsters with their jeans around their ankles semi-rapping about being “in your pussy” (there goes my extensive Afroman knowledge) or 2) EMI manufactured pubescent-targeted schlock about how tough life is, how your girlfriend dumped you, or how you might in fact be gay. Gore and co-writer David Gahan seem darned if they aren’t going to exploit this to the best/worse of their ability, just glance over the track titles: ‘Corrupt’, ‘Hole To Feed’, ‘In Chains’ and the list goes on, spewing self-absorbed depression everywhere. And just like a horrible infomercial, there’s more! Gore insists on breathing all over these songs (as opposed to singing) with a melodramatic stupidity that just becomes simply unbearable, and lets be honest; we can all probably guess what the lyrical subject matter is just from the song titles. Sonically speaking, the album pulls every which way possible, from the mechanical whirring of opener ‘In Chains’ to the almost-shoegaze indulgence of ‘Come Back’, complete with ethereal glockenspiel. They’ve taken a leaf out of their replacements’ book too, tracks like ‘Fragile Tension’ and ‘Miles Away/The Truth Is’ bristling with Crystal Castlesish fuzzed-out 8-bit kitsch.

Although they borrow from their ‘contemporaries’ stylish noir feeling, the fact of the matter is that Depeche Mode come across as Snow Patrol toting vintage synthesizers. The angst and melodrama, not to mention the sheer lack of imagination, swamps this record and you can’t help but feel let down. Maybe this was their plan all along? Make a record that would disappoint all, leaving everyone sad and lonely so they would come back and listen to it again for comfort’s sake? Maybe. It could be that I’m just being cynical…

-James Donaldson

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