Depeche Mode’s extensively successful career plays out much like a human life plagued with identity crises. It went through its adolescent stage as a teeny bopper with 1981’s Speak & Spell via its catchiest “Just Can’t Get Enough” and “Dreaming of Me.” As the band grew older and its tastes matured, it made a natural progression toward more serious tones, both musically and topically, to finally find its place at the forefront of electronic pop. Now, after more than 30 years of chart-topping fame, Depeche Mode hit an analytical point in life—self-evaluation is inevitable.
The question remains: Why, and how, after all these years does Depeche Mode continue to release captivating music? Perhaps the main reason why Sounds of the Universe even exists is to prove the band’s unremitting influence today—though The Killers’ Hot Fuss already did that—as heard on the beefy video game-like synthesizers and ending blips of “Fragile Tension” that sound like something more likely found in Crystal Castles.
Like the majority of Depeche Mode’s back catalog Universe carries a bleak tone, heavy with melancholy credited to the band’s return to vintage gear and analog synths. Yet somehow the album’s most upbeat track, “In Sympathy,” drives Universe as a whole and down a path toward memories of “Enjoy the Silence,” while the solemn “Jezebel” and “Peace” bring back the familiar Depeche Mode brand of electro-gloom.
Twelve albums in, the evolution of Depeche Mode reached its climax with Violator and Music for the Masses, with releases like Playing the Angel and Universe attempting to redefine the sound of giants to little avail. Simply put, there’s no need for redefinition; they’ve already reached perfection and like Mama said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”