Sophisticated synthpop turns tedious with ‘Delta Machine’
In 1989, Depeche Mode released “Violator,” a collection of tracks displaying lyrical seriousness and evident evolution from the days of “Just Can’t Get Enough.” Their megahit, “Personal Jesus,” climbed the charts and catapulted the band to wider worldwide celebrity, ensuring the avoidance of has-been stigma that afflicted other ‘80s monoliths by the end of the decade. But 24 years and six albums later, it seems as if Dave Gahan and company have little to do than rehash their era of innovation, and “Delta Machine,” released March 22 on Columbia, only illuminates this long-term stagnancy.
Like their synthpop counterparts, Depeche Mode has established a formula they deem infallible due to how their all-too-adoring fanbase has responded. Such a crowd of devotees can be helpful in sustaining a career in an ever-changing business, but catering to a subset that yearns for the group’s dated stylings only knots a noose for artistic instincts. Though Depeche Mode has released new material and toured immensely since their heyday, they stray away from performing much material beyond 2001’s “Exciter,” which says a lot — or perhaps very little — about their creative identity.
With “Delta Machine,” we see Gahan and instrumentalist Martin Gore bring out the same weary, dark overtones consistent with every Depeche Mode album since “Some Great Reward.” Religion, usually cast in an ambiguous-to-negative light, has often been incorporated in the group’s songwriting and the word “soul,” as observed by Pitchfork’s Douglas Wolk, is included in five songs penned by Gore. This is an element that rendered the band appealing to the then-burgeoning goth and industrial communities, but now it merely creates a feeling of kitsch or cheese. This, paired with what translates as a nasty Nick Cave impression from Gahan, is what marks the album as another disappointment in the group’s discography.
But it would be unfair to write off the album as “wholly horrendous.” Though the songwriting is melodramatic and mediocre at best, the musicality of “Delta Machine” is pretty solid, thanks to producer Ben Hillier, who lent a hand on mixing DM’s last two albums. “Welcome to My World” and “Angel” are especially enticing to those not familiar with the band’s discography, which works to the band’s advantage if they’re attempting to garner attention from new audiences. Although “Delta Machine” doesn’t translate as the group’s swan song, the lack of refreshment is stifling to impatient fans.
Maybe the old cliché about artists and their addictions rings true. Gahan kicked his heroin habit two decades ago after nearly overdosing, but the fact that his prime product has stopped existing since his stint in rehab seems like no coincidence. But despite the sheer monotony of “Delta Machine,” there’s a sliver of hope that Depeche Mode, who insist on remaining relevant, will again push for pioneerism.