After nearly 30 years on the scene and worldwide album sales in excess of 75 million units, the band Entertainment Weekly dubbed “England’s dark lords of dance rock” returns with a characteristically brooding release. But there’s a twist. Read on.
Optimism and hope aren’t words that typically spring to mind when the topic of Depeche Mode pops up. And yet listening to Sounds of the Universe, those themes are undeniably present. Take “Peace,” for example. On that track, vocalist David Gahan proclaims, “I’m leaving bitterness behind this time/I’m cleaning out my mind/ … I’m leaving anger in the past.” In exchange, he believes, “Peace will come to me.” He also talks of his desire to become “a living act of holiness” and to let “all the positivity that I possess … light up the world.” Elsewhere, “In Sympathy” praises someone for maintaining her dignity, rejecting flattering manipulation and doing the right thing (“You’re bright, you’re strong/You know your right from wrong”).
Several songs deal with romance. “Hole to Feed” longs for a healthy relationship, one that heals wounds (“This world can leave you broken inside”) and nurtures openness toward life’s blessings (“We’ve been chosen/We’ve been blessed with a place/We need to find and then open”). “Fragile Tension” ponders a tenuous-but-enduring connection between two people (“When we’re teetering on the edge of collapse/Nothing can keep us down”). “Come Back” expresses a man’s longing for the return of his beloved. Even as “weeks turn into months,” he says, “I’ll be waiting, patiently.” “Miles Away/The Truth Is” perhaps suggests that a person who is “withdrawn but alive” will be forever cut off from love because of a refusal to take a risk.
Before anyone stands up and shouts, “Who are you, and what have you done with Depeche Mode?!” however, there are some problems. The first single, “Wrong,” embodies Depeche Mode’s infamous fatalism as it blames practically everything—being born under a bad sign, bad choices, bad circumstances, bad genetics, bad friends—for a life that’s gone utterly awry. (The song also includes the album’s lone vulgarity, “p—ing.”) “In Chains” details a man’s enslavement to someone he lusts after (“The way you move/Has got me yearning/ … Has left me burning”). This unhealthy attraction is so strong that the song’s narrator practically worships the object of his lust (“It’s you that I’m living through/You’ve got me praying to you.”). Similarly, “Jezebel” finds a man praising a sensual woman whose loose sexual morals others condemn (“I need you just this way/ … Morally unwell”). “Hole to Feed” is hopeful in many ways, but ultimately describes coming to the realization that a new relationship is merely “another hole to feed.” Spiritual ramblings on a couple tracks (“Peace,” “Perfect”) occasionally include New Age-sounding references to different states of consciousness and vibrational frequencies.
Sounds of the Universe has no shortage of quintessential Depeche Mode moments, both sonically and lyrically. Blather.net describes the album’s 13 tracks as “shimmering and thuddering through a parallel universe where 1982 never really stopped.” Sometimes the accompanying lyrics are exactly what we’d expect. “Wrong,” for instance, could be retitled “Dr. Seuss’ Very, Very Bad Day” (“There’s something wrong with me chemically/Something wrong with me inherently/ … The wrong genes/ … The wrong means”). Surprisingly, though, the band apparently isn’t interested in investing every track with such morbid mopeyness, as more songs than not deliver hopeful messages instead of just romanticizing emotional despair.
After serving as an associate editor at NavPress’ Discipleship Journal and consulting editor for Current Thoughts and Trends, Adam now oversees the editing and publishing of Plugged In’s reviews.