Recordings

No one who overdosed on DM in the past decade will be seduced by sleek updates such as the jittery surge of "Barrel of a Gun" and "It's No Good" or the mechanized blues of "Useless" and "Sister of Night." Still, they're sturdy songs, and Gahan's mock-operatic voice has even gained some surprising depth. Ballads predominate here, but the only time the effect is cloying is on "The Love Thieves," which reeks of Big '80s nostalgia. A whiff of desperation can be found in ambient throwaways such as "Uselink" and "Jazz Thieves," which ape the arty atmospherics of any number of faceless DJs.

What distinguishes Gore from most techno pretenders is his ability to write real songs--a distinction unimportant only to hipsters sucked in by the likes of Spring Heel Jack. True, there's not much substance in lyrics such as "Wisdom of ages/Rush over me/Heighten my senses/Enlighten me," but Gahan's sad, slow recitation gives them a power more fatalistic than hopeful. Half the fans who filled the Depeche Rose Bowl shows in the late '80s have already moved on, and the Chemical Brothers have dethroned them as synth heroes of the moment. Ultra may be the sound of a multiplatinum empire in decline, but there's a bruised beauty to it that can't be dismissed.

--Keith Moerer

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