Depeche Mode, "Delta Machine" (Columbia) -- One year before Depeche Mode unveiled its brooding self to the world, a record dropped by a group called the Silicon Teens. Titled "Music for Parties" (1980), the album featured bright, rollicking versions of rock and roll classics ("Memphis, Tennessee," "You Really Got Me," etc.) played entirely on synthesizers. Though the videos showed four alleged band members dressed well and partying heartily, the Silicon Teens were a virtual band -- entirely the product of one Daniel Miller. "Music for Parties" was issued on Miller's indie label, Mute Records, which then signed Depeche Mode within the year.
The music Depeche Mode began cranking out aligned with that aesthetic -- applying recognizable pop formats to purely synth-based compositions. By the end of the decade, Depeche Mode peaked by transcending mere translation and carving out their own artistic niche, gloomy as it was. "Delta Machine," though, balances one of pop music's most recognizable overall sounds with something of that original penchant for filtering classic music into futuristic forms. It's even in the title -- "Delta Machine" is an album of synthetically encrypted blues.
This 13th Depeche Mode album cranks to life slowly, laboriously, dripping with the trio's typical world-weary drama. "Welcome to My World" begins by breathing, with bone-rattling bass notes, then launches into the pastiche of "Angel," a nakedly wailing blues thick with over-the-top growling from singer David Gahan, who seems to be channeling singer-actor David Johansen playing the role of a revival minister, nearly to the point of camp. "The angel of love is upon me!" he repeats between snatches of spirit ("Like a preacher on Sunday / I wade into the water") and psychedelia ("I see and taste sound"). It's a headstone for a record filled with more moan than melancholy. The blues seep from carnal explorations, as well, as in the sexual fixation of "Slow" (a song written during sessions for 1993's "Songs of Faith and Devotion"), which contributes the requisite DM dose of sleaze. Gahan is in good voice -- perhaps too many of them, crooning ("My Little Universe") and droning ("Heaven") and snarling ("Soft Touch/Raw Nerve") -- and per usual, sound and sense are stronger here than structure and lyricism. But this is a strong electronic pop album, and these are definitely songs from under the floorboard.
Other pop resurrections
Suede, "Bloodsports" (Warner) -- One of the pillars of '90s Britpop, Suede returns with its first album of new songs in a decade, reuniting the 1996 "Coming Up" lineup for a set that picks up largely where the wide-sweeping band left off. Guitarist Richard Oakes still has knives out, and his serrated riffs slash and stab behind Brett Anderson's big, pealing choruses. Not a band I expected would wear their age well, but Suede turns out to be a lean and handsome in middle age.
The Ocean Blue, "Ultramarine" (Korda) -- In my interview with David Schelzel earlier this year, he said the Ocean Blue's new album (their first since 1999) sounded like their first simply because he'd been inspired by a lot of current indie-pop -- a lot of which sounds like early Ocean Blue. Indeed, the chiming guitars and wispy melodies drift and fall throughout these 12 new tracks, but the back-to-the-future perspective actually manages to sound a bit dated in spots. There is, though, a rewarding dynamic at play between Schelzel's even flightier vocals and an occasional bottom-heavy swing to the band (crystallized most within the beautiful and well-written dawning of "New York 6AM"). Points are docked, however, for selecting a song for inclusion here from Schelzel's side of the 2004 "Waterworks" EP ("Fast Forward Reverse" was a noodling instrumental and now is a full-fledged song) instead of one of the excellent songs from keyboardist Oed Ronne's side.