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Sounds of the Universe

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Album Review

2005's Playing the Angel proved to be one of Depeche Mode's strongest albums — the combination of Ben Hillier's production, the emergence of David Gahan as a songwriter following his initial solo effort and a clutch of striking songs that openly embraced arena-level bombast following the much more subtle Exciter resulted in wide praise and a well-received tour. As a result — especially given the return of Hillier, the first producer to work on two Depeche albums in a row since Flood's heyday with Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion — Sounds of the Universe was initially suspected of being Playing the Angel redux, something the swaggering lead single "Wrong" didn't undercut at all. After all these years, though, Depeche can still pull out surprises, and what's quite astonishing about Sounds is how they've returned to the equipment and textures of their early-'80s work in particular while reworking it to match both Gahan and Martin Gore's current lyrical and songwriting techniques. On balance, Sounds is one of Depeche's lower-key albums, but not without explosive or dramatic moments by any means, though. "Come Back," one of Gahan's three songwriting contributions, captures a sudden sense of vast space right from its start, the deep-chugging percussion and reverberation perfectly contrasting the soft chimes on the verses, while "Peace," with an opening bassline straight out of the days of the band's pop-industrial phase, and a stellar vocal turn from Gahan, is an absolute high point. But "In Chains," the slow-building start to the disc, sets the tone best for Sounds as a whole, with a hushed keyboard introduction, Gahan's swoon-worthy vocals (showcasing some of his best falsetto work yet), Gore's compressed funk guitar blasts and, above all else, the sense of older styles and sounds — classic drum machines, early synthesizers, a rumbling bass undercarriage — serving new purposes. More overt nods to earlier days appear with songs such as "Fragile Tension" and "In Sympathy," both featuring keyboards and beats sounding beamed in from A Broken Frame days but also with beautiful vocals that the younger Gahan could never have so easily done and guitar textures that the younger Gore had yet to fully embrace. "Perfect," meanwhile, almost reaches back to Speak & Spell thanks to an opening keyboard line that immediately calls the song "Puppets" to mind, but again it's more of a launching point for the current band's sound rather than a simple exercise in retrospection. Gore's sole lead vocal appears towards the end of the album on the enjoyable if understated "Jezebel," but his uncanny knack for harmonizing with Gahan throughout remains intact, with stand-out performances including the understated clatter and chime of "Little Soul" and his bravura turn toward the end of "Wrong." On the whole, Sounds of the Universe is a grower, relying on a few listens to fully take effect, but when it does, it shows Depeche Mode are still able to combine pop-hook accessibility and their own take on "roots" music for an electronic age with sonic experimentation and recombination — not bad for a band with almost three decades under its collective belt.

Customer Reviews

Mislabelled track

Outside of 'Violator', this is my favorite Depeche Mode album. Extremely consistent from start to finish, which was a real step up from 'Playing the Angel'. The production was a throwback to their early 80s analog synth sound, but the song structure and compositions were still Modern Mode. I'd like to point out, however, that the track here that's labelled "Perfect (Roger Sanchez Club Mix)" is no such thing: it's the regular old album version. I don't think the remixes are commercially released at all here in the States.

Magical!!

On August 3, 2009 at MSG in New York City was a magical moment to remember. While the crowd was chatting waiting for the show to begin, three men were opening act for depeche mode they were preparing their instruments getting really for opening act. When they done they were leaving off stage. The crowd was not paying any attention was going on but i knew as my intuition was telling me it was Depeche mode. I shout out HEY WHERE YOU GOING...suddenly they look into the crowd and saw me as I was standing on the chair I was wearing my Peace sign shirt and I lift my arm above my head with a peace symbol and that moment on Martin L. Gore believe it was going to be a magical night of the Sounds of the Universe Tour. Love you Depeche Mode always been your fan since the 80s and into the 21st Century. :)

InYourRoom

I've always loved Depeche Mode's older music, but an awesome person named John from Texas introduced me to this album. Loving it! Can't stop listening to it.

Biography

Formed: 1980 in Basildon, Essex, England

Genre: Pop

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Originally a product of Britain's new romantic movement, Depeche Mode went on to become the quintessential electropop band of the 1980s. One of the first acts to establish a musical identity based completely around the use of synthesizers, they began their existence as a bouncy dance-pop outfit but gradually developed a darker, more dramatic sound that ultimately positioned them as one of the most successful alternative bands of their era. The roots of Depeche Mode date to 1976, when Basildon, England-based...
Full Bio