With such a wealth of personal experience to draw from, Dave Gahan will never be short of lyrical inspiration for his songs, the beating heart of Depeche Mode having already been through more than you or I could expect to reasonably encounter in a lifetime.
Where he has been perceived to fall short, however, is in the disciplines where band mate Martin Gore excels – melody, song structure and a pop sensibility. The latter is something Hourglass never approaches – intentionally. Yet the signs are that Gahan, plugging himself in to more obviously electronic production this time, has found an intense mode of expression that suits him extremely well.
Confessional or redemptive lyrics feature strongly once again, prompting thoughts of that fine Songs of Faith And Devotion album from 1993. Deeper And Deeper makes an even more explicit reference to that era by practically lifting the melody for I Feel You and putting it through the bacon slicer. Gahan’s primal cry here opens a few emotional doors you’d rather stayed shut, the dark, metallic texture closer to Nine Inch Nails.
And yet we can be saved. The trimmings may be darkly laced, but when the darkness of songs like Deeper And Deeper threatens to overwhelm, there’s a flipside such as Insoluble, which finds a crumb of comfort in the repeated line “you’ve nothing to fear”. The harmonies of Saw Something cling on with the lyrics, as Gahan notes that “I saw something in your eyes, I wanted it for myself”.
In pop terms, the songs are a shade too long – but this means the subtly applied electronic cuttings have more time to work their magic, as they often do, in and around the vocals. Brooding, slowly treading basslines patrol the lower reaches, and while the melodies might not yet approach Gore’s writing in his prime, they stick firmly after a few listens.
While the singer may not sound relaxed, there’s no doubting an absolute assurance in this medium, the easy paced rhythms lending themselves well to his unhurried vocal disclosures.
For Gahan, it seems, is progressing into a well-rounded, mature songwriter who plays to all his strengths, and in particular the cracked voice, and its ability to move from a confidential whisper to a rabble rousing bellow. These songs show him in a newly redemptive prime, and will satisfy both short and long term devotees.