More than 30 years into their career, Depeche Mode still sound like Depeche Mode. Even through all the creative stumbles, personal setbacks and bigger, grander visions that have taken them to bigger, grander places, Depeche Mode never fail to sound like anyone but themselves. That goes a long way in explaining why the group has continued to make records and stay relatively relevant while most of its synth-pop contemporaries ingloriously faded away, just as they were expected to.

Depeche Mode’s 13th album, ‘Delta Machine,’ is exactly where they should be at this stage. It sounds like part of the 21st century as it acknowledges the group’s storied past. ‘Delta Machine’ is no ‘Violator,’ but what is? But it is the band’s best album since its mid-‘90s peak.

And like so much of Depeche Mode’s best music, ‘Delta Machine’ is filled with deep bass growls, rich synth drops and an impressive palette of sounds that drip with expressive textures. Singer Dave Gahan still comes off like a messianic goth ringleader whose flair for the theatric is matched only by his rock-star swagger. And like so much of Depeche Mode’s post-‘Songs of Faith and Devotion’ output, the songs on ‘Delta Machine’ focus more on style than hooks.

There’s really no melodic pull to any of the album’s 13 tracks. Instead, the complex instrumental patterns that run though cuts like the opening ‘Welcome to My World,’ ‘Angel’’s sinister edge and the late-‘80s throb of ‘Soothe My Soul’ go deep in other ways. And in that respect, ‘Delta Machine’ is one of the best-sounding albums of Depeche Mode’s long career.

But complaining about its lack of heart misses the point. Depeche Mode never really had one. They’ve built their career on doing their best to warm synth’s ice-cold tones, but there’s only so much thawing their computerized rhythms are capable of. Even when they aim for the heart -- like on the first single ‘Heaven,’ a dull plodding ballad that Gahan over-sings -- the results are less than affectionate. This band’s heart resides in its machines. And after all these years, they still sound like they offer some sort of salvation.

7 out of 10 rating

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