Depeche Mode: Ultra

Depeche Mode hasn't had an easy time of things lately: Longtime member Alan Wilder quit the exhaustion-plagued band a year and a half ago, while singer Dave Gahan fought a well-publicized battle with heroin addiction and suicidal tendencies. That's saying nothing of the fact that its most recent album, 1993's Songs of Faith and Devotion, was a pompous, sodden bore. The new Ultra is spotty but better: The single "Barrel of a Gun" is a hookless, forgettable non-song, and "The Bottom Line" is a plodding nightmare, but "It's No Good" is catchy and smartly arranged enough to compensate for lyrics that seem swiped from a Billy Squier song. (Sample: "Don't say you want me / Don't say you need me / Don't say you love me / It's understood.") While many tracks are overlong, appropriately gloomy atmospherics step in when they're sorely needed: "Useless," "Home" and "Sister of Night" are vastly preferable to arena-ready pap like Faith and Devotion's "I Feel You." Ultra is far from Depeche Mode's best album, but it's not the worst, either. And that should be good news to fans who feared that very thing.

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