Routinely dismissed as a band of synth-pop robots, Depeche Mode actually uses its machines to make some of the most human sounds around. Black Celebration is certainly this British quartet’s most melodic effort to date: the clanging disco-concrete fusion of early LPs like Construction Time Again has mellowed into a brand of brooding, romantic music only hinted at on last year’s Some Great Reward. “I haven’t felt so alive in years,” gushes singer Dave Gahan on “But Not Tonight,” this LP’s ghostly closer, although for composer-lyricist Martin Gore, even celebration is pretty bleak.
Gore dissects his gloomy obsessions with wit and intelligence. He’s abetted by his bandmates, inventive technicians who understand that machines weren’t meant to sound like souped-up electric organs. Despite its campy horror-show title, “Fly on the Windscreen — Final” is the sort of matter-of-fact meditation on mortality most people flash on behind the wheel of a car. A bank of synths buzz ominously through the verses of “Fly,” amplifying the unease, then whoosh gratefully when the first chorus reaches for life’s only solace: “Come here kiss me NOW.”
Most of these ditties are unabashed love songs, albeit brutally honest — quirky ones that pick apart popular notions of emotional independence (“A Question of Lust”) and adolescent sex (“A Question of Time,” “World Full of Nothing”) to an itchy, mechanized beat. Songs like these and some serious image-mongering have won Depeche Mode a loyal teen following, appropriately enough. But underneath their bleached-blond, black-leather pose lurks musical maturity and a wry sensibility deserving of a wider (read adult) audience.