Review Summary: An assured sophomore effort from the Depeche Mode front man. Electronic clicks, shimmers and stomps, confessional lyrics…sound familiar?
Sex. Drugs. Synth n’ Roll. A suicide attempt. Even death (for three minutes). Oh yeah, he’s been there. Whether living it up in the darkest corners of mid-80s Berlin, or swaggering/staggering around LA during his 90s transformation into the Keith Richards of electronica, Dave Gahan has come a long way from his days singing ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’
in a peach blouse. His mid-90s attempt to change Depeche Mode’s image by transforming himself into a long-haired rock n’ roll icon unfortunately resulted in some of the worst times of his life, brought on by going to the edge of excess and then taking it just that little bit further. So it’s fair to say that on this, his second solo album, he should have quite a lot to get off his chest. But has he carved out his own identity here, or does he just sound like, well, Depeche Mode"
Happily, it’s a bit of both. His lyrics, vastly improving on the embarrassing naivety of his boringly samey debut Paper Monsters
, explore such delightfully desolate themes as lack of faith, sexual depravity, absolution and ageing, as well as musings on life after death and guardian angels. But Dave presents these ideas in a format he’s more comfortable with - the electro-rock song. All not a million miles away from Depeche, but whereas Martin Gore has recently tended to stick to the tried and tested slow-to-mid tempo ditty, Dave is far more prepared to add some extra pace to his tracks, and some confident beats that occasionally overshadow some of the delicate electronica that is ever-present on this album. ‘Deeper And Deeper’
is a great example of this; hollow electro clicks, full-on stomping beats, aggressive, throaty vocals suit this dirty-sounding song of sexual aggression. ‘Use You’
s extremely catchy chorus pounds with sleaze and depravity, ‘A Little Lie’
s intro is striking for its twisted slams, and gloriously dark lead single ‘Kingdom’
is Depeche Mode according to Gahan, with a slightly Numan-esque synth over the chorus - a good one for the clubs.
But trips into sentimental gushiness are also successful; ‘Saw Something’
starts the album with blank, minimal electronic shimmers, soon developing into a sweeping, romantic chorus, complete with electric guitar squeals from John Frusciante and heartfelt drumming from Christian Eigner. A truly memorable ballad that ticks all the right boxes - vulnerable, melodic, touching, slushy enough to make the girls go all teary-eyed; not quite mushy enough to turn off the guys. Best song on the album.
I need some company, I need you tonight,
You don’t have to talk to me, don’t be polite,
Take my body and soul, I feel so old,
On the ground
The culmination of a rock god’s fall from grace, ’Down’
, full of warped minor chords, is hypnotic and world-weary, and ends the album on a powerful note. Essentially, there are few major flaws on Hourglass
. There are one or two tracks that fail to snare the listener's attention; ‘Miracles’
has great lyrics about faith, but musically it’s anonymous for the most part. ’Endless’
lives up its name rather too well - pensive, melancholy piano punctuates this vaguely reflective track that repeats itself for too long without going anywhere particularly exciting. And one or two other songs feel like they're unfinished, or not reaching their full potential. But on the whole this is a confident effort, playing up to Dave’s greatest strength: his voice, which continues to get even better with age and is as flexible as ever, alternating between velvet-soft whispers and raw, swaggering rock god dramatics.
Dark. Synthy. Lyrics about drugs and religion. Yes, it’s almost Depeche Mode, but not as we know it. Dave’s developing sense of structure to music and lyrics may still be average compared to the talents of Martin Gore, writer of such songs as ‘Personal Jesus’
and ‘Enjoy The Silence‘
, but his strengths over his bandmate are beginning to show in his acute pop sensibilities and willingness to take just a few more risks. Hourglass
is an album that lacks Depeche Mode’s melting-pot of talent and expertise but has a far fresher approach to making electro-rock in the 21st century. When Depeche Mode regroup next year to produce another album, Martin might just want to loosen things up a bit.