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Positive Feedback ISSUE 66
march/april 2013


Depeche Mode, Delta Machine
by Michael Mercer


depeche mode delta machine

Depeche Mode opened so many doors for me as a teenager. My sister, older by a couple years, turned me on to their music when I was in junior high school (1988-89). Before that I was listening to a lot of heavy metal and hip hop. Their music sounded unlike anything else I'd heard. There was a vulnerability in the lyrics that I hadn't experienced so deeply before. It was a wholly new music world for me. I mean, Music for the Masses? There was nothing "new wave" or "post-punk" about it for me. It just sounded like the pain and angst of my generation personified by a band. Remember this is pre-Nirvana. We had nothing to galvanize against, no great war to protest in order to bring us together. Gen X was like a globally bored youth epidemic. Bands like Depeche Mode, The Cure, The Smiths, Erasure, and New Order felt like a validation of our worldly apathy. They gave it a voice, many voices in fact. But there seemed to be a thread throughout the music. One of the things about the music that resonated with me was the global feeling that there is still beauty in total darkness. While much of the music was dark, there was always a sense of hope and belonging, if not longing. There was also an intense feeling of the future being thrust upon us by that music through the evolution of synthesizers, tone generators, drum machines, and increased speed and agility of computing power.

Well, just a couple decades later, they've managed to achieve something that is unfortunately rare in rock-n-roll today, they evolved. Delta Machine doesn't just sound different than their previous work, it sounds like today, right now. "Welcome to My World", an anthemic, minimal, dark, techno masterpiece, with its Shamanic call to drop our pharmaceutical crutches, "Step into the door, leave your tranquilizers at home, you don't need them anymore," "all the drama queens have gone, and the Devil got dismayed, he got fed up with this town, his master plan delayed"... Makes me wanna pump my fuckin' fist! When Martin Gore says "you want to lose control," I'm getting worked up into a frenzy, all sorts of images from my rave nights and clubbing journeys come crashing through my brain. It feels like they're channeling our generation throughout the entire track. What a way to open a record! It's like a call to arms saying get up off your ass and do something. Like "watch a sunrise set," many of us after-party-ers know what that's like, when the night blends into the day, and that day blends into another night. You excise your demons on the dance floor, and for some of us that takes a long time! This feels like Depeche Mode's been working out their demons all these years, and this is their collective breath.

The stripped-down drums and clicky percussion with a haunting piano riff is reminiscent of early Portishead. That vibe permeates "Heaven".  "Secret to the End" sounds like a modern Rocky Horror Picture Show ballad, representing the global underground electronic music scene. It's hooky, even the guitars that have a touch of machismo to 'em, and it feels like another anthem. They really felt like they had something to say here. That seems like the most awful cliché I realize, but it just came to mind. That action doesn't let up on Delta Machine. I'm not saying there aren't musical peaks and valleys throughout Delta. There most certainly is a whole story to be told. I don't think this is a great album for the buy-one-track generation, and I'm so fucking glad I didn't grow up with it—because it would be tempting when you're young. This record's impact on me upon first listen would've been greatly affected if I had just heard a chunk of it. Like my friend Jeff in Brooklyn, I listened to it for the first few days I got it! The only thing I can say about that is the music grabbed me unlike anything I'd heard in months.

This record is hypnotic. It's a deep, cerebral techno journey through the darkness and the light that may come from the darkest depths of human emotion. Sound heavy? It fuckin' well is. But it's brilliant. What's the motive for their pleasantly shocking return? Who gives a shit. This music is hard, this music is now, this music is at the ascent of the avant-garde. The real difference here is maybe Depeche Mode never gave up on us and thought it was time to share something intense and engaging to distract us from the mess we've found ourselves in. If a piece of music that make me think about the present, past and future, with both great sadness and joy than I say it's one of those rare happenings that you're obligated to enjoy! Music is here to evoke something in us. Whatever that is, is in the ear of the beholder, but  Music for the Masses was a fierce siren call many years ago. It also ushered in new feelings of hope and anguish for a generation, and gave a voice to their collective distrust of society. Here we are more than two decades later talking about the same things. It just so happens Depeche Mode has busted their artistic asses to change the message a bit. With Delta Machine, I believe they have proven they're here to stay as long as they wish.