Depeche Mode had long been one of the more singular acts in popular music by the time they released ‘Sounds of the Universe’ in 2009. Though technically a synth pop outfit, they’ve often maintained a much more cynical worldview than their average contemporaries. The world of Depeche Mode is a world that feels out of reach from the happenings of daily living. It’s a world fully realized in a dream, yet it’s a dream that you only sometimes wish you were having. Such is natural in human existence, though, we are drawn to the more forbidden aspects of living and in dreaming.
The opening track on the record is “In Chains” and as vocalist, Dave Gahan, chases Martin Gore’s muse through the predictably bleak atmosphere of the band’s typical soundscapes, it just might be so that the stakes aren’t quite as high on this record as they were on the previous one (2005’s ‘Playing the Angel’). A bit of a playful imagery carries the listener right into the next two tracks, “Hole to Feed” and “Wrong”. Even if “Wrong” is, at its very core, a track that carries its alienation at the forefront, it’s presentation isn’t one of self-pity. These guys have been around long enough to know better than to fall into that miserable trap. While the track “Little Soul” reminds us all that U2 took this platform from Depeche Mode in the ’90s, there is an obvious reality that shines through with this record. These guys have continuously proven to have much deeper subject matter than most of their synth pop contemporaries. Think about it. How many ’80s synth pop groups are still around and, if so, how many are continuing to pump out material of this quality? A necessary pondering dareth rear itself in understanding the legacy of this band. What the track “Peace” accomplishes is presenting the band’s own trademark, albeit bizarre, sense of emotional resonance. Many Depeche Mode tracks over the years have been, seemingly simultaneously, emotionally distant and emotionally present; cold and warm; alien and yet, somehow, human enough that the listener understands where their material is coming from, or at the very least, understanding where its coming from on the surface of things.
There’s a relatively familiar verdict to be reached on this record. Longtime fans of the band will know this. Depeche Mode don’t really make poor records. This record maintains a consistency that allows it to be easily listenable and enjoyable throughout its full duration. Much of the material on this record falls short of being absolutely essential, but what the hell? They still sound quite inspired in the presentation of their material and as long as that’s true, they can continue to pile on as much fat to their legacy as they want. These guys are still pumping out reliable material when the timing is right and it’s important to note that the more time goes on, the more influential these guys are becoming. Electronic material is becoming more and more dominant at the forefront of popular music these days and arguably no band, especially commercially, has done more to be the main ambassador for this than Depeche Mode. If that’s not your thing, there’s no reason to worry. You can hardly blame Depeche Mode for Skrillex.