Guilty pleasures: David Gahan – Paper Monsters/ Martin Gore – Counterfeit2 (2003)

The only concert I’ve ever walked out of was Depeche Mode. This was during the Music For The Masses tour at the old Boston-area Great Woods shed. The primary reason was musical: just too much, uh … sameness … slamming beats, bland vocals and what seemed like music being “delivered” via tape and/or sequencer. The other factor was David Gahan. But more on that in a moment.

After a very cool opening of Pimpf -> Behind The Wheel, the rest of that Depeche Mode show struck me as being pretty flat. It seemed like they were playing tapes of tunes while standing around striking poses. I was really hating the show … I took at look at my friend Greg thinking “gees … another hour of this crap?” and he says “Any time you’re ready.” Heh … so, off we went … back home to watch a Celtics game over a couple of beers.

I did make it through about half of the show, though … long enough to have a few things lodge in my musical subconcious. They were the darker tunes. The aforementioned opening songs as well as “Stripped” and the title track from Black Celebration. So I somehow ended up buying two CDs after attending a show that I didn’t even like all that much. Kinda weird for me. So, somewhat like a train wreck, I found myself not being able to look away from Depeche Mode.

Many, many years later … Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore comes out with Conterfeit2. Another train wreck that I can’t look away from? Not really. It’s ‘better’ than that. It’s my soft spot for odd song covers, as Counterfeit2 is full of Martin Gore-icised covers. From his Depeche Mode-does-Led Zeppelin-does-David Essex “In My Time Of Dying,” Nick Cave’s “Loverman” and Kurt Weil’s “Lost In The Stars” (oh man, could Freddie Mercury have done that or what?!!).

Anyway, the sound is what you would expect: plenty of synth washes, blurby computer sounds and reverb-drenched twangy guitar. Not exactly party music, but not half bad either.

Now, about Gahan. To me, he came across as a pompous twit. As it turns out, that should have been drug-addled pompous twit.

Of course, I was probably wrong about both the pompous and the twit parts of this. I mean, what the hell do I know about the guy except that he sings for Depeche Mode and that he had substance abuse issues?

Not much. I take it all back. The more I think about it, I was probably just annoyed that evening because I had driven all that way (to Mansfield, MA) only to get a mailed-in performance … it also didn’t help that the singer from the opening act (Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark) berated us for not dancing (sorry dude, but your band was fricken boring).

I ended up enjoying Paper Monsters, too. While this kind of pop isn’t generally high on my list, there’s a certain moody and atmospheric quality (I wanted to use the word ambient here, but that’s been so overused recently) that took me back to that long-ago night and songs like “Pimpf,” “Behind The Wheel,” “Strangelove,” “Black Celebration,” “Stripped.”

There are some great touches on this record: a little glockenspiel, vibraphone, some twangy guitar, cello, and viola … all suspended in not too much reverb.

Lyrically it seems a little more direct and personal than Depeche Mode (maybe Martin Gore should listen to Gahan and allow him a larger role in the songwriting process … it wouldn’t be a bad move). There are several relationship/love/breakup songs (this is a pop record, after all) as well as some pretty introspective “confessionals” dealing with the whole addiction issue.

In the folk world, reviewers tend to dump on material like this by trotting out the “navelgazer” cliche … which I think is crap. If you’ve got a thought bottled up in you, you gotta let it out! In this case, Gahan almost died. That’s gotta spawn a few demons in a guy’s head.

Anyway … I thought the songs were pretty damned powerful. All in all, a pretty good record — actually, two pretty good records. And maybe for more than just Depeche Mode fans, too.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.