Depeche Mode - Ultra (Mute) This album could probably be hailed as a back-from-the-brink effort from the godfathers of synth-pop: most groups would already have self-destructed with the loss of a key member and then having their lead singer suffer an extreme nervous breakdown. However, the Mode survived the loss of Alan Wilder and the indulgences of front man David Gahan, which resulted in a flirtation with cocaine, followed by a foiled suicide attempt. In any case, Ultra should be the living proof that Depeche Mode has come clean from those cliched rock 'n' roll years. Gahan was obviously on the final straight to recovery from his addiction, proven by his cleancut vocal performance. And with Tim 'Bomb the Bass' Simenon at the production seat Ultra also shed the messy rock indulgence of yore, in favour of a more gleaming style. Opening track and first single Barrel of the Gun might have misled listeners into believing the same pompous rock frolicking that clouded over their last offering, Songs of Faith and Devotion in 1993, would again rear its ugly head. But, once the opening threshold had been crossed, the album turned out to be a beautifully woven fabric, taking the dark atmospheric mood of Black Celebration and morphing it with the crystalline electronic solemnity of Violator. Songs such as The Love Thieves, the brooding The Bottom Line and particularly Useless contain the compulsory content a Depeche Mode track should have - lyrics about lost love, burning desire and amorous martyrs accompanied by the crisp sound of synthesisers with occasional steel guitar riffs rolled in for beefier effect. This time round, the creativity of songwriter Martin Gore shone throughout, without having to battle the inner demons that diminished his overblown rock treatments. With Ultra under their belt, the boys from Basildon could finally celebrate the end of their four-year hiatus by cruising forward, relegating their ultra-rock misdemeanour of Songs of Faith and Devotion to a blip on the record.