Depeche Mode released their twelfth album, Sounds of the Universe, in April 2009; April 20 in Europe and April 21 in the United States and Canada. The regular CD pressing of the album contains thirteen tracks. A digital download version added two bonus tracks. The vinyl LP and CD pressing had two LPs with the thirteen songs bundled with the regular CD. A CD/DVD combo contained the regular CD and a DVD that includes two videos, the video for “Wrong” and “Sounds of the Universe (A Short Film),” as well as the album in 5.1 surround sound, and three bonus tracks. The iTunes Pass version had the thirteen album tracks, plus the “Wrong” music video, “Sounds of the Universe (A Short Film),” and sixteen bonus tracks. A deluxe box set edition contained the regular CD, a CD of bonus tracks and remixes, a CD of demos, a DVD that includes the items from the CD/DVD combo, plus other additional video pieces, and other assorted extras, such as hardback books, a poster, etc. In the United States, there were also store-specific pressings that each touted a different exclusive track.
Most of the material on Sounds of the Universe was written by Martin Gore, Depeche Mode’s main songwriter. However, lead singer Dave Gahan co-wrote three songs with Christian Eigner and Andrew Phillpott: “Hole to Feed,” “Come Back,” and “Miles Away / The Truth Is.” The B-side song “Oh Well” was co-written by Martin Gore and Dave Gahan.
Dave Gahan does a majority of the lead vocals on Sounds of the Universe. Dave and Martin share lead vocal duties on “In Chains,” “Peace,” and “Little Soul.” Martin provides the lead vocals on “Jezebel” and the bonus track “The Sun and the Moon and the Stars.”
The album opens with “In Chains,” which has a long opening intro. The intro can be a little grating, but once you get past that, the song itself is actually quite good. “Hole to Feed” has a bit more of a “harder” sound than would usually be expected from Depeche Mode, but it’s still an enjoyable listen. “Wrong,” the lead-off single for the album, has a sound and flow to the music that grabs the listener; it’s also one of the stronger songs on the album. “Fragile Tension” is one of the more pop-friendly songs on Sounds of the Universe, and I’m not surprised to see that it was released as a double A-side with “Hole to Feed.” “Little Soul” is a slower song, but some the lines in the chorus get stuck in your head after hearing the song a few times. “In Sympathy” is another one of the more pop-friendly songs on the album, and it’s a shame that it wasn’t released as a single.
The mid-tempo song “Peace” opens the second half of the album. I like the lyrics of the song, but musically, the song never really progresses. It’s not a bad song, but I’m not sure it was the best choice to be the second single from the album. “Come Back” suffers from a similar problem to “Peace”; while the lyrics are good, the music ends up staying stuck in a rut. “Spacewalker” is a roughly two-minute long instrumental; unfortunately, it basically plods along, and you’re ready to move on to the next song before it’s finished. The next song, “Perfect,” starts to rescue the listener; while it’s a mid-tempo track, the music doesn’t plod as much as “Peace” or “Come Back.” “Miles Away / The Truth Is” is another one of the more pop-friendly songs on the album; however, I think it was overlooked as a potential single, due to the fact that Madonna released her song “Miles Away” as a single earlier this year. “Jezebel,” Martin’s only solo lead vocal on the album, was a bit of a letdown for me. While Martin’s vocals are up to his usual standards, the song itself just plods. Also, it’s a very abrupt change going from “Miles Away / The Truth Is” to “Jezebel.” “Corrupt” is the last listed song on the album, and it really doesn’t sound like an album closer. It’s another slow song that plods, and being on the heels of “Jezebel,” it really drags down this section of the album. There is a hidden track at the end of “Corrupt”; after roughly 2-3 minutes of silence, a roughly 40-50 second instrumental is heard. This hidden track basically sounds like a short instrumental version of “Wrong.”. Personally, I didn’t think this hidden track added anything to the album.
As a long-time Depeche Mode listener, I was a bit disappointed in Sounds of the Universe. While the album does have its moments, it’s not a strong unit as a whole. The first half is pretty strong, and there’s a couple of good songs in the second half. However, this is not an album I’m going to be pulling out and listening to in its entirety. While Sounds of the Universe isn’t a bad album, it doesn’t rank as one of their better albums for me; it just doesn’t rank up there like Violator or Some Great Reward. I was also disappointed in the band’s U.S. label in trying to force the fans to buy multiple copies of the album in an attempt to boost album sales. My husband and I ultimately went for the deluxe box set and the iTunes pass, since we couldn’t truly afford to justify buying the various store-specific pressings just to get one exclusive song on each that wasn’t available elsewhere.