Album: “Delta Machine” (Columbia)

Grade: B

Strangely, British synth-pop’s first — and, once, fussiest — hitmakers Depeche Mode has long had an obsession with Mississippi Delta music. As with previous albums, Dave Gahan musters a soulful falsetto and a gutsy baritone wail on “Delta Machine” to go with his deadpan monotone croon. Guitarist and primary composer Martin Gore likes his blues licks and gospel choirs, heard on dozy numbers such as “Slow” and “Goodbye.”

Where “Delta Machine” veers from the last several Depeche Mode records (too clean, too close to windswept, U2-like grandeur) is in its willingness to get dirty and creepy. After the rote bigness of the so-so “Heaven” and “Welcome to My World,” the rest is an oddball electronic dream.

“Should Be Higher” is nu-doom-disco at its most delicious, with Gahan’s tender lyrics toying with memories of his own onetime addictions (“Your arms are infected/ they’re holding the truth”). “My Little Universe” and “Soft Touch/Raw Nerve” toss around the timeworn sonic cliches of minimalist house, techno, and industrial-tronics and come out victorious.

And while Gore is still DM’s principal songwriter, Gahan gets several compositions into Machine’s mix, each murkier and eerier than anything he has penned previously. Nice show of progress after 33 years in the synth biz.

—A.D. Amorosi, Philadelphia Inquirer

Blake Shelton

Album: “Based On A True Story” (Warner Bros.)

Grade: B+

The more Blake Shelton rises in stature, the more he parades his swaggering, mischievous personality. His high-profile role as a judge on NBC’s “The Voice” has provided a platform for the entertainingly outspoken side of this tall, drawling country boy from Oklahoma. Now Shelton is creating music as brash as he is, fully integrating his colorful character into his songs.

Before “The Voice,” Shelton spent years struggling to establish a consistent presence on the country music charts, never creating a recognizable style of his own. “Based On A True Story” reveals how much has changed.

The album opens with a hip-hop treatment of the word “redneck,” traversing Shelton’s cross-interests in the rural and the urban, before blasting into the guitar-driven “Boys ‘Round Here,” about back-country folk who rock out in the cabs of their pickups. The tune sets the tone for Shelton’s focus on boisterous country rock and emotional ballads that show off his expressive vocals as the Country Music Association entertainer of the year rises to his newfound superstar status with a lighthearted but rollicking album that pushes boundaries in all the right places.

—Michael McCall, Associated Press


Album: “The Comedown Machine” (RCA Records)

Grade: D

One of the key axioms of the acting trade is to never seem desperate for a role. To be a hot commodity, behave like you couldn’t care less. “The Comedown Machine,” the fifth album by New York band the Strokes, exudes nervousness; you can almost see beads of sweat on the band’s foreheads as it works, and fails, to stay relevant while tossing off harmless 1980s-style ditties.

The sonic equivalent of a lawn mower idling in a driveway, “The Comedown Machine” is a baffling invention, one that expels a lot of energy to no discernible end. It shows a band wondering on its place in the music world and coming up blank.

—Randall Roberts, Los Angeles Times

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