Sounds of the Universe:
April 21, 2009
(Mute/EMI) (2.5 out of 4)
influence looms incredibly large at the moment, so there's little need for the band to
over-exert itself in pursuit of cool.
Instead, in fact, the long-in-the-tooth synth-pop trio effortlessly maintains its dignity
on Sounds of the Universe, its 12th studio album, simply by acting its age and oozing the
confidence of already knowing it's cool. Call it "Adult Goth," if you will, but
this stylishly sedate set succeeds more consistently than the group's lively 2005 return
to form, Playing the Angel, by offering a high-toned, mature refinement of its
This doesn't mean that resident beatmakers Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher haven't kept up
with the times, tech-wise. They ably bridge the gap between the `80s and the present,
marrying the supple sounds of au courant Berlin to a shiny Krautrock chug on "Fragile
Tension" and practically begging for a nu-trance remix job on the weightless "In
Sympathy." Most of the album is as slow to sink in as it is deliberately paced, but
it's usually the sumptuous, artfully asymmetrical and utterly modern programming to such
tunes as the snake-hipped future-cabaret vamp "Little Soul" that draws you back
to investigate the less pronounced hooks. The lyrics seem like afterthoughts, whether Gore
is putting vapid verses like "There's a dizzying feeling/ That's keeping us flying/
Through glittering galas/ Without even trying" in singer Dave Gahan's mouth or Gahan
is fumbling his way further forward on his own in the art of songwriting a pastime
he only took up recently. Still, Gahan's menacingly sexy "Miles Away/ The Truth
Is" is the most striking cut here, a sickly cousin to "Personal Jesus"
that, along with the nihilistic closer "Corrupt," more than makes up for Sounds
of the Universe's plodding latter half.
Top Track: "Miles Away/ The Truth Is." It couldn't be anyone other than Depeche
Mode, but at least it's a fairly fresh take.