Solo a la Mode
The latest trends in solo projects have been to either throw fans a curveball (e.g., acoustic albums from Thrice’s Dustin Kensrue and Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello) or play to acknowledged strengths (e.g., Jarvis Cocker post-Pulp, Morrissey post-Smiths, Siouxsie post-Banshees). On his second solo album Hourglass, Depeche Mode frontman Dave Gahan injects something noticeably lacking from his 2003 effort Paper Monsters: a little bit of honest-to-goodness Depeche Mode.
Even acknowledging that it featured Gahan’s first songwriting attempts Monsters was one weak curveball, forsaking his synthpop legacy in favor of the grunge ethos that informed DM’s work and led him to near-fatal substance abuse in the 1990s. Hourglass plainly cribs from the better moments of this gritty latter portion of Depeche Mode’s career. We still hear conventional instrumental touches as well as howling electronics that recall rock’s distortion and feedback, but this is obviously, thankfully, more of an electronic album than Monsters could manage.
“21 Days” drops in choral vocals and lyric naughtiness (“You had us all by the short-and-curlies”) while “Use You” is backed by fuzzy guitar riffs and drum fills; all these elements once found a home on DM’s Songs of Faith and Devotion. “Miracles” and “Insoluble” use softer atmospheres that could have fit nicely in the back half of Violator, like revisions of that album’s “Clean” and “Blue Dress.” First single “Kingdom” is a cool “are you there, God?” epic that looks back to Playing the Angel. Gahan and his studio players even manage to peek ahead to French Touch electro on “Deeper & Deeper.”
All of this might sound derivative, but don’t worry. It works. If nothing else, Hourglass shows Dave Gahan pays attention to trends and is a real fast learner.