Depeche Mode: Andrew Fletcher, David Gahan, Martin Gore.
Additional personnel: B.J. Cole (pedal steel guitar); Doug Wimbish (bass); Keith LeBlanc, Gota Yashiki (drums); Danny Cummings, Victor Endrizzio, Jaki Liebezeit (percussion); Daniel Miller.
Personnel: David Clayton (keyboards, keyboard programming); Kerry Hopwood (programming).
Audio Mixers: Q; Paul Conboy.
Recording information: Abbey Road, London; Eastcote, London; Electric Lady, New York; Larrabee West, Los Angeles; RAK Studios, London; Strongroom, London; Westcote, London.
Photographer: Anton Corbijn.
With Alan Wilder now gone, ULTRA is Depeche Mode's first album as a trio. But in many ways it marks a return to form for the band. Producer Tim Simenon gives ULTRA a rich, lush sound that rejects the straight-ahead rock and analog experimentation of VIOLATOR and SONGS OF FAITH AND DEVOTION. Instead, ULTRA moves deftly between the sparseness of Depeche Mode's legendary early work and the complex, hard-edged sounds the band came to experiment with. The wide dynamic range allows for seamless interplay between thick, atmospheric keyboards; snaking intertwining programming lines; and an expansive palette of guitar textures.
"The Bottom Line" features a blend of sweet pedal-steel guitar (played by session great B.J. Cole) and plaintive, soaring synth sounds alongside two DM trademarks: ominous, low-end synth and David Gahan's reverb-soaked baritone. "Barrel Of A Gun" is driven by raspy distorted vocals and a wild, throbbing backing track. "It's No Good," with its insistent hook hidden in bitter industrial longing, gives the band its deftest pop song in almost a decade. For all that this band has picked up in 17 years, it hasn't forgotten where it came from.
Rolling Stone (5/1/97, pp.53-54) - 3 Stars (out of 5) - "...Songwriter Martin Gore has plenty of dark passion to document....moody, pulsating ballads such as `The Bottom Line' and `The Love Thieves' are ideal vehicles for Gahan's brooding baritone and for the band's ever-increasing sense of tender intuition..."
Spin (5/97, pp.110-111) - (6 out of 10) - "...Simeon's pristine production...fits Depeche Mode's need to conceal their age in sleekness. Rather than co-opt drum'n'bass, they do what they've done since VIOLATOR: merge machine aesthetics and corporate machinery into a punkishly forbidding indolence..."
Entertainment Weekly (4/18/97, p.66) - "..combines up-to-the-second synth effects...with ripping melodies--all supported by the grim sonic architecture that long ago made DM the darlings of many a sour teen. Imposing spires of synths, industrial rivets of percussion, churchy organs, and grave vocals erect an edifice of reverent dread..." - Rating: B
Q (1/98, p.112) - Included in Q Magazine's "50 Best Albums of 1997."
Q (5/97, p.118) - 4 Stars (out of 5) - "...ranks alongside...BLACK CELEBRATION as their darkest album to date....dry, dislocated, burnt-out and sometimes beautiful songwriting....Gone are the big, roguishly aggressive hooks, replaced by industrialised trip-hop beats...and widescreen spaces..."