Depeche Mode - Ultra

The very first track Barrel Of A Gun is without doubt my favorite release of the year so far, and the first time I heard it was as I passed a parked car a month ago (March 97) and heard about fifteen seconds of it from a radio. I remember thinking......Wow, this band is going to go places, I wonder who they are.

I never heard it once between then and now! The only part my memory changed was the timing of the synth part between the outro chorus vocal parts. I'm listening to the song as I write this and find myself listening out for all the special little parts, like the very brief section where the bass line drops a couple of semitones and then gets back into "tune". You can learn a lot about the mind of the programmer, learn about the way they deal with events, when the thought processes become as ultra focused as they have to become while programming music such as this.

As I listen to the second track on the CD, The Love Thieves, it's turning into a different version of itself. I was kind of worried when it first started, I couldn't take it seriously, there was something wrong and it sounded too "nice". I should have known better! All the niceties and mini pseudo licks have morphed into something disturbing. Clouds and chilling mists have filled the happy valley.

Home is classic Depeche Mode, and it's a beautiful piece. I suspect that the strings are synthetic but judging by the liner notes they are real. They have the total "James Bond" score that I adore. If they are sampled they are the most authentic string samples ever. The arrangements are superb regardless, not too pompous but with just the right amount of grandeur. Again, on the following track, It's no good, we are treated to another great arrangement and assortment of sounds from a band that helped define the genre.

There are incidental sound effects throughout the album, cropping up in the most unusual places. I'm listening to the album through a pair of AKG K270's which give me access to the kind of sonic stuff similar to that which must have been heard in the studio (give or take a couple of KHz) and was amazed at what's really in there.

On Uselink a four bar loop is used at the intro and instead of running it and leaving it the EQ is altered on each cycle, an extremely simple procedure but also the kind of touch that would easily be passed over. Well structured rhythm tracks with superbly programmed percussion parts and particularly cool sounding hi-hats and cymbals prepare most of the songs for lots of classic analogue sounds, used sparingly but obviously. I also really like the way guitar sound is used throughout the album, its sound really helps inject a dimension that is sadly lacking in much "electronic" music. On Useless it sets the tone and holds on as noise samples and synth pads integrate across the spectrum. It also helps prepare the ear for the use of "real" double bass and percussion sounds, in fact there is fingered bass throughout most of the album and acoustic drums AND lots of guitar. Great, it's about time electronic music started getting real.

I like this album. I like its darkness and its confidence. It's a music for a new age and in my opinion the best album so far from Depeche Mode. ULTRA is well worth the wait.

Rating - 990,568 (out of a possible 1,000,000)