Time is on Depeche Mode’s side. With radio stations and the press clamoring for any act that can make the trendy synthetic textures of electronica crackle with real songs, DM have tunes to burn.
Ultra, their first work in four years, combines up-to-the-second synth effects (courtesy of producer Tim ”Bomb the Bass” Simenon) with rippling melodies — all supported by the grim sonic architecture that long ago made DM the darlings of many a sour teen. Imposing spires of synths, industrial rivets of percussion, churchy organs, and grave vocals erect an edifice of reverent dread.
DM had plenty of real-life dread to draw upon this time. Since their last release, lead singer David Gahan has taken a slice at his wrists, OD’d on drugs, and bungled a second marriage, while the band lost key member Alan Wilder. Ironically, this has resulted in more lyrics seeking earnest redemption amid the usual hopelessness and kink. Too bad it’s hard to take any lyric seriously as crooned by the oily Gahan. He’s the Engelbert Humperdinck of mope rock.
Depeche Mode land on firmer ground with the richness of their synths. The best cuts even find a new angle by swirling in instruments like dobro and pedal steel guitar (in the dusty tracks ”Freestate” and ”Bottom Line,” respectively). Electronica gone Americana? Consider that synth-pop’s latest ne plus ultra. B+