Depeche Mode Depeche Mode
Ultra
(Mute/Reprise)
   


There are some things that in life are just assumed:
if you walk barefoot in the rain your feet will get wet,
if you put your hand in a fire you’ll get burned.
if you expose your ears to a Depeche Mode album you will be transported to an ecstatic merger of synthesizers, gloom and celebration.

It’s been four years since Ultra’s orgiasmic predecessor Songs of Faith and Devotion, and while some Mode things have changed, much remains the same. Still at the mic is the soulfully brooding David Gahan, and still writing the songs is Martin Gore. Andy Fletcher rounds out the band, which lost Alan Wilder after the last grueling world tour. With the loss of Wilder and Gahan’s time in rehab a couple years ago, it looked as if Depeche Mode’s now 17-year run was at an end. But Ultra shows, if not a band in its prime, a band with some kick left.

Ultra is, in some respects, a quieter record than Songs of Faith and Devotion. While it opens with the powerful lead single, “Barrel of a Gun,” a familiar Mode meld of guitars, processed vocals and electronics, much of Gore’s other material for Ultra moves in a moody, ambient mode. One of the best tracks in that vein, “Sister of Night” is an eerie hymn of slow synthesizer slides and Gahan’s near-religious crooning to either a vampire or a fellow lonely soul of the after hours. The smooth guitar picks of “The Love Thieves” back a quiet recitation that, like so many Mode songs, mixes the sacred and the profane:

“Love needs its martyrs
needs its sacrifices
they live for your beauty
and pay for their vices.”

The prelude to “Freestate” opens with what sounds like a filler piece from a movie soundtrack — cyclical synth basslines are topped with xylophone sounds and creaking techno effects. “Freestate” itself is moved by a bluesy guitar line as Gahan trots out images very familiar to Mode fans:

“I can hear your soul crying
listen to your spirit sighing
I can feel your desperation
emotional deprivation.”

And that encapsulates probably the biggest complaint you could make about Ultra. It’s all very familiar. Lyrically and sonically this is a comfortable, logical continuation of Songs of Faith and Devotion. After four years, you might expect a little more than that.

The only song here that sounds remotely like a stretch from the last couple of Mode releases is “Home,” and only because it finds Gahan sounding more like Bryan Ferry than himself. But the sad, solemn string orchestration marks this as a firm followup to the last LP’s “One Caress.” Likewise, “It’s No Good,” one of the few upbeat danceable tracks on the disc features a bassline and chorus sound straight out of Faith’s “Walking In My Shoes.”

Still, familiar or not, it’s hard to deny the bittersweet allure of Depeche Mode’s trademark mix of soul, electronics and just the right dose of dourness. Ultra is a little low on spark when played song for song, end to end...but sometimes that’s exactly how Mode fans like it.

 

Apocalyptica
Plays Metallica by Four Cellos
(Mercury)
½ (for bravery)


Here’s something that should never happen: four cellists covering Metallica. This is a silly exercise in stretching the limits of instruments and good sense. The cello was simply never designed to be a good lead instrument, and the cellists’ attempts to recreate the dark urgency of Metallica rarely come close to gelling.

The album leads off with one of its most unsuccessful attempts, “Enter Sandman,” which sounds as if the instrumentalists are struggling just to create a hint of the melody while sustaining a chugging ominous back riff. More successful are “Master of Puppets” and “The Unforgiven,” which make decent use of the cello’s natural melancholia.

This is for Metallica stalwarts and those who enjoy musical humor (not necessarily intentional).

 

Miscellaneous:


The soundtrack to Howard Stern’s Private Parts movie on Warner Bros. features a mix of current and classic hard rock tracks, from Porno For Pyros’ “Hard Charger” and Marilyn Manson’s “The Suck For Your Solution” to Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water,” Cheap Trick’s “I Want You To Want Me,” and Ted Nugent’s “Cat Scratch Fever.” There are also songs from Rob Zombie, Ramones, Green Day, AC/DC and Ozzie Osbourne with Type O Negative. In between each song are dialogue clips from the movie, which make for an amusing first time listen, but virtually guarantee that you won’t listen to this often without using your CD player’s memory feature to program out the dialogue in favor of the rock...The Virgin Records soundtrack to The Saint is a celebration of trancey techno-dance music, with the likes of Moby, The Chemical Brothers, Underworld, Luscious Jackson, Sneaker Pimps and Orbital. The disc also includes the current Q101 crowd instrumental hit, Daft Punk’s “Da Funk,” one of the best tracks from David Bowie’s latest album (“Dead Man Walking”) and a slinky new song from Duran Duran (“Out of My Mind”)...If it is dance music you want, Cold Front has released a two disc Club Mix ‘97 various artists collection that mixes hits like Crush’s “Jellyhead,” La Bouche’s “Sweet Dreams,” Expose’s “Come And Get Your Love,” and Nicki French’s cover of Bonnie Tyler’s hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart” with an instrumental run-through of the theme from Mission Impossible by FC 7 and a version of “Macarena” sans female vocal by Los Del Mar. There are also tracks from Real McCoy, Quad City DJ’s, Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, Junior Vasquez and more.