Martin Gore, the creative engine-room of Depeche Mode, has been writing instrumentals for the band for the last 35 years. Perhaps because of this commitment it is relatively rare for him to strike out in a solo capacity, with previous outings restricted to the 2003 covers album Counterfeit².
He did however impress in 2012 with VCMG, his instrumental and surprisingly powerful electro collaboration with sometime bandmate and Erasure founder Vince Clarke. By effectively cutting it in half, with the simple and unpretentious release of MG, he brings together an album Mute’s press release describes as ‘a soundtrack to an emotional and mysterious film of your own design’. He also – probably unwittingly – adopts the name of a certain bygone English car marque.
With no vocals to worry about, Gore holes himself up in the studio, a process he prides on doing five days out of seven in a typical working week, the compulsion to make music almost overwhelming. In his vast career behind the keyboard he has clearly become well-versed on electronic music and its heritage, picking up much from Teutonic music of the 1970s – Kraftwerk inevitably shine through here – but there is also something of the spirit of John Foxx coming through in the shorter character pieces. Each track paints a distinctive picture, tending towards the darker side but impressing with stature and poise.
This is far from purely derivative music-making, however, each track suggesting Gore had a very specific picture in his head at the time of composition. Pinking builds very impressively from its initial plucked theme, gaining in scope and stature, while Spiral explores the shadows with almost painstaking clarity. Exalt is better still, a majestic construction scattering its initial percussion with a blast of light from Gore’s keyboards.
Not all the production has such depth, as Gore is perfectly capable of more intimate thoughts. Creeper is the Foxx-ian sketch, a dark and paranoid piece preoccupied with wary glances and unexplained movements in the dark. Stealth is the number where Kraftwerk are perhaps most vividly recalled, a brooding number with sharpened synths. Europa Hymn, though, is arguably MG’s finest moment, a repeated brush of synthesized paint (silver, perhaps?) complemented by a sure footed breakbeat.
While Gore’s music is very accomplished it is not quite as visionary as that of some of his contemporaries, acting as a fine complement to Depeche Mode’s music rather than threatening to become a highly influential solo breakaway. Yet this outlet is clearly essential for him, allowing him to concentrate on song-based material for the band.
Depeche Mode fans will know this, of course, but the listener should not approach this album with the expectation of structured songs. Instead these are brooding mood pieces, intricately constructed and painstakingly produced. The album itself is probably a shade too long, its 16 tracks lasting just shy of an hour, but at no time does Gore rest on his laurels.
Like its author, MG does not blow its own filtered trumpet sound from the rooftops. Rather it gets on with the job in hand, never short changing the listener, and in the process providing a valuable insight into one of pop music’s great creative minds.