Quick Spins: Reviews of CDs by Depeche Mode, Allen Toussaint and Wussy
SOUNDS OF THE UNIVERSE
"Sounds of the Universe" is everything you could want from a Depeche Mode album in 2009, in that it sounds nothing like an album from 2009. The gloomy synth-rock pioneers seem comfortable with the fact that they became gloomy synth-rock pioneers for a reason, and the resulting lack of industrial clang or forced club beats means the focus remains where it belongs -- on Martin Gore's synth symphonies, hopelessly romantic lyrics and Dave Gahan's dramatic delivery of the latter.
"Fragile Tension" scoots along with "Legend of Zelda" sounds sneaking out from every corner while Gahan does his very best to sell the vague ("There's something magical in the air/Some things so tragic we have to care") as a matter of life and death. Gore has never been the most inventive lyricist, and that doesn't change in the slightest on "Universe." He's still one of the premier "guess the rhyme" writers (Strong? Wrong! Proof? Truth!), but subtlety and cleverness have rarely had a place in Depeche Mode's universe. Gahan's steely voice works well with big issues -- love, lust, betrayal, fear -- and his simple intensity suits the songs better than any unnecessary wordiness.
Gore also keeps things relatively uncluttered musically. A chunky keyboard riff drives lead single "Wrong," and warm sounds wash over "Peace," even if it's hard to believe Gahan as he moans, "There is no space for the regrets. . . . Peace will come to me." After all, we've heard similar sentiments before. Good thing they still sound so good.
Depeche Mode performs at Nissan Pavilion July 28.
-- David Malitz
DOWNLOAD THESE: "Peace," "Fragile Tension, "Wrong"
THE BRIGHT MISSISSIPPI
From "Mother-in-Law" to "Ruler of My Heart," producer, writer, arranger and accompanist Allen Toussaint has had a hand in the making of as many major New Orleans hits as anyone. He's even been enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. And yet, despite his considerable résumé and accolades, he remains, at age 71, one of pop music's best-kept secrets.
"The Bright Mississippi," the self-effacing pianist's exquisite new set of Crescent City-associated jazz, isn't likely to make him any more of a household name. But it does reveal his great flair and imagination as an interpreter and performer.