Depeche Mode: Sounds of the Universe

Anton Corbijn, 2009
Anton Corbijn, 2009

Maybe Depeche Mode (depechemode.com) got tired of Brooklyn kids biting their sounds. Maybe they ran out of cash to keep stocked in black turtlenecks. Maybe they, like Christophe Decarnin at Balmain, are going to cash in on the ‘80s revival as long as there’s still cash to go around. Whatever the reason, we’re happy the super trio is still making music in the 21st century–until we actually listen to the music and then we feel doubly sad. There’s the romantic sad: the existential lyrics, those gloomy Moogs! It’s dance music for partnerless wallflowers. And then there’s the nostalgic sad: didn’t they used to sound, well, exactly the same, but better back then?

Sounds of the Universe (Mute Records, April 21) is aptly titled, if you think of the universe as a vast, glittering black hole. It’s electro-noir: depressive rock ballads married to drum machines, atonal guitars blasted with bleeps and whirs like those of a sad robot. Once, this was seminal futurism, boldly going where no pop music had gone before. Now, Depeche Mode can’t help coming off like their own cover band.

But one song saves it all: “Wrong,” the banshee whoop of a single, vocals chanted over heart-pounding beats and the heavy brake-screech of a vintage synthesizer, feels entirely right. Call it “Personal Jesus,” but for a new age of believers.

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