There are two questions I always hear when a well-established artist releases new music long after their acclaimed heyday. These questions and comments seem to be rooted either in mild excitement or confusion, or both. One is, “They’re still a band?” and the other is, “Whoa, is it any good?” The subtexts to both of those questions are that many people’s attention span for a band lasts only a certain amount of time. Which leads me to my question; how successful would this record be if it had been released during this band’s glory years?
With a monster opening song (“Welcome to My World”), a Martin Gore-on-lead-vocal ballad (“The Child Inside”), and dance-y swing number (“Soothe My Soul”), Delta Machine has many key ingredients for a classic Depeche Mode record. But I have to assume that “Delta” and “Machine” aren’t going to be the first two words that anybody thinks of when they hear the words “Depeche Mode.” This doesn’t necessarily have to do with the quality of music — it’s a cohesive, well-produced, well-written effort — but the fact is that by 2013’s standards the new music Depeche Mode creates is quite mature, not enticing for young people. And besides, Depeche Mode already has plenty of widely celebrated albums from a widely celebrated decade.
But back to my question: what if Delta Machine had been released between 1984’s Some Great Reward and 1986’s Black Celebration? What if it had the same production values (or lack thereof), synth sounds and aura of nostalgia that those records do? If that were the case would you be crazy if you answered Delta Machine when somebody asked you what your favorite Depeche Mode record is? I think the answer is no. Fans and music critics become further opinionated and judgmental in the golden years of an artist’s career and I like to ask myself these hypothetical questions, to grasp how I feel about a record from an artist who I am well acquainted with. I understand that the more music an artist produces the more there is to refer back to, which makes more room for comparison. I’m not saying that bands always, or even usually, get better with every release but I do think that it’s necessary to remove yourself from your relationship with a band in order to form an open-minded opinion of their new material.
So what is the mindset of a band that’s writing a 13th record? Is it different from the mindset of writing an 11th or 12th record? It’s not as if the state of Depeche Mode is much different from what it was when they made 2005’s Playing the Angel or 2009’s Sounds of the Universe… right?
Every time I get asked the question “Your new album has a much different sound from your earlier material, what inspired that change?” I always answer with “We are constantly evolving as musicians and as people, so making this was a natural and inevitable move for us.” That’s what being young is for — trying out new things, exploring your self and really figuring out what you want to offer the world. But I have to wonder that one day I’m not going to be evolving as rapidly as I was when I was in my 20s, and if Ceremony is still a band 30 years from now, I’m sure we’ll nestle comfortably in a certain sound and live within that musical realm for the remainder of our career.
I understand if Martin Gore doesn’t take my hypothetical questions into consideration when writing a record and isn’t thinking of the records he wrote in the ’80s when he writes new material. I understand that Depeche Mode has created a lifestyle for themselves that revolves around producing music and it’s a need for them as much as it can be dismissed by the casual fan. But I’m grateful for the fact Depeche Mode still gets out of bed in the morning and that I have answers to those commonly asked questions: Yes, Depeche Mode are still very much a band and yes, their new album is good.