Depeche Mode released their ninth studio album, Ultra, in 1997. It had been about four years since their last studio album, Songs of Faith and Devotion. During that time, long-time band member Alan Wilder left the group to focus on his own project, Recoil. Also, lead singer Dave Gahan nearly died of a drug overdose. When the Ultra album was announced, fans wondered how the music would sound, since Alan Wilder had been rather instrumental in shaping the band’s sound since he joined in 1982.
Ultra opens with “Barrel of a Gun,” which was the lead-off single from the album. While you could hear some of the sound from the Songs of Faith and Devotion era, there was still a difference. There is some distortion applied to Dave Gahan’s vocals on this uptempo song. Even though “Barrel of a Gun” was the lead-off single, it ultimately did not represent the sound of the album.
The next song is “The Love Thieves,” which slows the tempo of the album down tremendously. It’s a slower song that features lead vocals by Dave Gahan. Next is “Home,” which is another slow song, and it was the third single from the album. This song features lead vocals by Martin Gore, Depeche Mode’s main songwriter, and it’s my favorite song on Ultra. Not only do I like the lyrics of the song, but I also like the atmosphere of the song; I especially like the use of strings.
Next is the uptempo “It’s No Good,” which, in my opinion, is the most “pop-friendly” song on Ultra. It’s disappointing that this song, which was released as the second single from the album, did not perform on the American CHR/Pop charts. “It’s No Good” is my second-favorite song from Ultra. The next song, “Uselink,” slows the album down again, and it is an instrumental interlude.
“Useless” was the fourth and final single from Ultra. It’s a more mid-tempo song, with vocals by Dave Gahan. “Useless” isn’t necessarily a bad song, but I can see why it was chosen to be the final single from the album. I like the song, and it is an enjoyable listen, but it’s not really a single. The next song, “Sister of Night,” is a slower song that is sung by Dave Gahan. I personally would have liked to have seen this released as a single from the album, but if it had been the fourth single, that would have put two ballads back-to-back as singles. It was nice to get to hear Dave sing a ballad, because usually, Martin Gore sings the band’s ballads.
The next song, “Jazz Thieves,” is another instrumental interlude. It’s a slower track, which is layered with a lot of different sounds. However, I’m not sure if I would use the word “jazz” to describe the sound. This is followed by “Freestate,” which is the longest song on the album. This is another slower song that is sung by Dave Gahan. The thing that stands out on this track is the fact there is a sound in the song that sounds a lot like an acoustic guitar.
The next song is “The Bottom Line,” a ballad sung by Martin Gore. It’s a good vocal performance from Martin, and the song itself is good; however, to me, the song isn’t quite as strong as “Home.” The final song listed on the back of the album is “Insight,” which is a midtempo song sung by Dave Gahan. Unfortunately, after having several slower songs in a row on the album, you start feeling a little worn out by this point in the album, and wish for something more uptempo. However, this doesn’t mean that it’s a bad song. There is a hidden track on the album, which appears after a ninety second pause at the end of “Insight.” The hidden track is the uptempo instrumental, “Junior Painkiller.” This hidden track is a nice change of pace after sitting through the second half of the album.
Depeche Mode had a lot to prove with the Ultra album. While it may not rank up there with my all-time favorite Depeche Mode albums, Violator and Some Great Reward, it isn’t a bad album for what it is. There’s some very good material on Ultra that is worth the listen.