Depeche Mode | Sounds of the Universe (Mute/EMI)

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depeche-mode.jpgIn the last decade, they dug a deeper path of dark-wave, driving beats and heavy-handed, often sexual lyrics.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Could it be that time has finally caught up with Depeche Mode? They were one of the bands of the '80s who only got better with each subsequent release. In the last decade, they dug a deeper path of dark-wave, driving beats and heavy-handed, often sexual lyrics. Their lastest release, Sounds of the Universe, feels like a step back.

Kickoff track "In Chains" appears to be headed in the right direction, smoldering yet fully in control. So does "Hole to Feed," with its pulsating beats and Dave Gahan's aching, familiar vocals. "We are here, we can love/ we share something/ I'm sure that you mean the world to me," he growls. With the dirty, underlying groove, this one seems destined for dance-floor remixes. An echo-y repetition of the title kicks off "Wrong." Backed by keyboards over fuzzed-out synths, ‘Wrong" is the band defined.

The keyboards that introduce "Fragile Tension" have their obvious roots in the '80s, though the pointed guitars tell you this is not your father's Depeche Mode. Rather than forge new ground with new sounds, the keyboards on both "Little Soul" and "Peace" recall 1984's Some Great Reward.

"In Sympathy" owes its keyboard/guitar combination to "Lillian" from 2005's Playing the Angel; I love that song so dig this one, as well...though I'm not quite sure why they felt the need to reuse its sound. The dark-rimmed "Come Back" never quite gets off the ground; similarly, "Perfect," with its droning keyboards, stays just below the radar as well.

"Miles Away" sounds oddly Justin Timberlake-influenced, in that Depeche seems to be retooling their dark beats for more of a pop audience. This isn't to say it's a bad song, as it's actually one of the more rocking tracks on the disc. Closing out the album are the mellower "Jezebel" and the gritty, grinding "Corrupt."

Compared to releases by other artists, Sounds of the Universe is in no way a bad album. It's just not the driving, dark 'n' dirty we've come to love about the Depeche Mode of the '00s. I'm not giving up on the band, and I'll certainly continue to spin Sounds; it just won't receive as many plays as previous releases. B | Laura Hamlett

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