Fans can count on Depeche Mode — they’ve released a new album and embarked on a coinciding tour every four years since 1993. It’s that time again, as the long-reigning synth-rock kings are back with a new LP, “Delta Machine,” their 13th to date. Keeping with tradition, they’ll head out on a 34-date European stadium tour, starting May 7 in Tel Aviv.
Out Tuesday (Mar. 26) on Columbia, the new album finds vocalist Dave Gahan and songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Martin Gore refining some familiar sounds and trying out some new wrinkles. Join Billboard as well take a track-by-track look at one of this year’s most highly anticipated alternative albums.
1. Welcome To My World – After 12 albums, one might think we’ve already been to Depeche Mode’s world, but from the opening heave of Dave Gahan’s voice over a dub-so-low bass, it’s clear that “Delta Machine” is a place we haven’t been to just yet. As an opening track, “Welcome To My World” marks a new direction in the band’s glorious darkness.
2. Angel – “I’ve found the peace I’ve been searching for,” sings Gahan just before a beat kicks in for a bluesy electro dirge that cycles through a few time signatures. “Angel” was first leaked last fall as “Angel of Love,” to mixed fan responses. In context of “Delta Machine,” the re-titled tune plays as almost a response to “Playing the Angel,” the first of the three albums the band recorded with producer Ben Hiller.
The most personal and coincidentally beautiful vocal of “Delta Machine” comes on “Heaven,” the official lead single. It’s a synth-rock slow jam that goes very alt-rock on the chorus, with some ripping vocal harmonies.
4. Secret To The End – Fans of the band’s heyday will probably like the chord progressions of “Secret,” but it’s the surprise hook of the chorus and Hiller’s unflinching production muscle that sets the song apart from anything in the band’s 80s repertoire.
5. My Little Universe – “My Little Universe” reveals that Martin Gore has been listening to a significant amount of Berlin techno. Gahan sings softly over some glitchy computer noises, to tantalizing effect. The last minute feels like a big tease — a pulsating build-up with sturdy dancefloor bones that ends too soon. Where is a seven-minute track when you need one?
6. Slow – “That’s how I like it,” goes the refrain on “Slow,” leaving little to the imagination about what “it” refers to. The guitar/keyboard riff combo packs a very specific kind of sexual energy, and it appears at an odd time on the album.
7. Broken – Showcasing the best of what Hillier brings to the Depeche Mode equation – unusual sound effects and seamless key changes – “Broken” expresses the most coherent musical thought of “Delta Machine.” The producer lets Gahan’s vocals shine in their deepest register, much like Hillier did for Editors frontman Tom Smith on that band’s last album.
8. The Child Inside – Gore has successfully channeled his own inner child for a revealing vocal performance on “The Child Inside” that recalls early David Bowie, or recent Chris Cornell — it’s hard to tell which. Lyrically, however, references to dolls, graves, and drowning children don’t do much to enhance this mid-tempo track.
9. Soft Touch/Raw Nerve – It’s alarming how unsure of himself Gahan can be. Despite the punching bass throughout “Soft Touch/Raw Nerve,” Gahan never rises above some rote rhyming of the words he’s singing, through which he sounds to be asking for reassurance. Aren’t rock stars supposed to be a little more confident than this?
10. Should Be Higher – The vocal risks Gahan takes on “Should Be Higher” are the ones he should be taking more of. There’s a soaring reach to a falsetto in the chorus, anchored by the Gore/Fletcher/Hiller industrial rhythm section – it really works. Despite its yearning tone, this tune is an achievement, capitalizing on the ambition laid out on “Playing the Angel,” but not fully realized on “Sounds of the Universe.”
11. Alone – If the subterranean bass of the opening track left you wanting more, “Alone” offers another taste. This unsettling tune has Gahan again confessing shortcomings: “I couldn’t save your soul/I couldn’t even take you home.” It’s a fresh production that keeps it alive amid religious metaphors — the band’s favorite kind.
12. Soothe My Soul – Affirming a late-album surge of energy and new ideas, “Soothe My Soul” brings back the band’s favorite imagery (the soul), sound (bass), and layered vocals. It goes on about a minute too long, but take that extra minute to hear some “Personal Jesus” musical allusion in the guitar riffs.
13. Goodbye – The blues country guitar lick that opens the final track is confusing and a little overwrought. Melodically, “Goodbye” could withstand a more minimal production and orchestration approach, but then again, that might not fit the sonic boom with which Depeche Mode and Hillier want to say a fond farewell.