“Words are meaningless and forgettable,” broods Dave Gahan on Martin Gore's elegantly written “Enjoy the Silence”. Unfortunately, the words on Depeche Mode’s latest, widely derided Delta Machine are a teensy bit unmemorable and even after numerous listens the new tunes lack "stickability".
However, buoyed by Gahan's strident, robust vocals, the tracks improve live, particularly the sumptuously lascivious "Soothe My Soul" ("I'm coming for you/ My body's hungry/ I'm coming for you/ Like a junkie") and the positively cheerful "Goodbye". The Essex boys' main concerns – smut, mortality, addiction and absolution – have been pretty unswerving since their 1977 formation in Basildon.
Their loyal devotees certainly appear to have retained the faith throughout a sustained fallow period. One disciple sports a T-shirt from Depeche Mode's 1993 gig at Crystal Palace, a dazzling performance (I was there) back when Mode could make a serious claim to being the biggest rock act in the world, after the all-conquering success of Violator and Songs of Faith and Devotion. Their brand of gloomy electronica has never really hit such giddy heights since.
Nevertheless, Gahan, who has recovered from bladder cancer and a near death experience in 1996 when his heart stopped for two minutes, looks remarkably trim and healthy. Dressed in three different black waistcoats (Gore and Gahan, quite sweetly, sport matching waistcoats), the frontman struts the stage like an old football pro (or flamenco dancer) peacocking in a West End nightclub: there's an array of sashays, pirouettes and shimmies. He's clearly in good mood, even supplying a rare wide grin during "Soothe My Soul" and the rousing "Policy of Truth". These definitive "survivors" appear content in their own skins.
The new material predictably dominates but the opening chords of “Personal Jesus”, which is positively bluesy here, and “Enjoy the Silence” are still an enormous thrill. This isn't a performance for those who love their glorious and poppier 1980s anthems – "People are People", "Stripped", "Master and Servant" and "Everything Counts". They don't get a look in but, thankfully, student disco favourite "Just Can't Get Enough" and the menacing "Black Celebration" do.
Visually, other than Gahan's twirls, the concert is unremarkable (apart from the pooches paraded on the big screens during "Precious), and the moments ("Higher Love" and "When the Body Speaks") when Gore takes over as lead singer are indulgent and a little arduous. However, their followers, touchingly, don't mind and this consummate stadium act have more than enough dark pearls to pull us through. Oddly joyous.