Dave Gahan reviews "Hourglass" (Bio)
14 августа 2007
“They say that time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.” -- Andy Warhol
There are few professions that force one to so constantly face down the march of time as that of the gloriously precarious job of rock stardom. And it is exactly that which makes the title of DAVE GAHAN’s second solo album, Hourglass (Mute/Virgin Records), all the more poignant.
The revered Depeche Mode front man, of course, nearly ran out of time himself. In the midst of a tragic and understandably well-publicized pre-Millennial run of decadence and self-destruction, Gahan’s heart literally stopped beating—the result of an overdose in a Los Angeles hotel room. He survived, of course, and, given a second chance at life, he determinedly set about the business of making the rest of his time matter--in a way that he hadn’t in a very, very long time.
Perhaps it’s no surprise, then, that he should have come to this point, to be making a record that strips off a few layers of rock & roll mythology and exposes the vulnerable, fallible flesh and blood person beneath it all. Gone are the mocking self-recriminations and gentle self-reflections of his solo debut, Paper Monsters, replaced by an astonishingly stark and honest search for meaning amidst all the chaos that is life on this Earth. Curiously, he credits the influence of longtime band mate and chief songwriter Martin Gore, with whom he shares a sometimes edgy partnership, with helping him find the fortitude to lay himself so lyrically bare.
Gahan reveals, “It’s something I’ve learned over the years from Martin, who’s not the most forthcoming of people when it comes to having a relationship with him. But I know where he’s coming from through the songs that he’s written. That’s where Martin exposes himself; and it takes a lot of courage to do that.”
Ah, Dave and Martin. From Townsend and Daltrey to Barat and Doherty, there have always been those renowned, volatile musical pairings that have produced as much controversy as they have great music. Gore, of course, took primary creative control of Depeche Mode after Vince Clarke’s swift 1981 departure, with Andy Fletcher and later Alan Wilder assisting in the sonic architecture—thus leaving Gahan to cultivate his role as singer, front man and, increasingly, towering sex symbol. He carried it all out with equal skill and zeal, as the band’s popularity skyrocketed throughout the 80’s, culminating in a spectacular sold out show at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena in 1988, which saw this once odd little band of new wave futurists suddenly playing to 60,000 screaming Americans. They would never again be a cult band; they had become international superstars, ironically fulfilling the promise of their somewhat sarcastically titled sixth album, Music For The Masses. They would go on to sell more than 50 million albums and more than 10 million fans would witness their sensational, legendary live performances.
However, what was to follow that unimaginable night in Southern California has by now become the stuff of legend. Depeche Mode’s ascent continued mostly unabated throughout the 90’s, and stardom began to get the better of their already iconic singer. He left his life in England behind, planted himself in Los Angeles, and went on a tear that nearly cost him his band and, as stated earlier, even his life.
As the road to redemption often does, it lead Gahan to a sharply increased self-awareness, and from this emerged the songwriter in him that had always been left neglected for a hundred and ten other concerns and obligations.
But as he prepares to release Hourglass, it’s important to point out that probably very few gave him much credit in advance of Paper Monsters. Even Mute founder Daniel Miller, Depeche Mode’s longtime mentor, was a skeptic. The record, of course, went on to tremendous international acclaim and success, with Q magazine citing it as one of the top 50 albums of the year. Sold-out tours of the US and Europe followed, and were captured on the electrifying 2004 DVD release Live Monsters. Gahan’s growth as a songwriter was represented on Depeche Mode’s 2005 album Playing The Angel, the group’s first album to feature Gahan originals; his three compositions included the single “Suffer Well.” A two million worldwide seller that vaulted to Number #1 in eighteen countries, the album was accompanied by a 2005-2006 international tour reaching 2.5 million people across 30 countries.
Now, teaming with drummer Christian Eigner--of Depeche Mode’s touring band--and Andrew Phillpott--who served as a programmer for Depeche Mode touring--Dave has made an album of startling versatility and emotional weight.
Rather than a collection of highly stylized and slickly produced songs, the music on Hourglass seems to be a direct extension of the specific emotions Gahan is trying to express. It is astonishingly direct, and not at all ambiguous. The eerily beautiful, gospel-tinged “Saw Something” quietly opens the album, his aching voice conveying a chilling reluctance to be secure in one’s happiness, for fear of it suddenly going away.
“That was the catalyst that started the idea to write again,” Gahan recalls, adding that is was also “the first lyric, and the key to open the door to thinking, ‘Okay, I can go here.’”
The three also made the brave (skeptics might have said ill-advised) decision to produce the record themselves, leading to a finished work that is strikingly immediate. The effortless chemistry between he and his collaborators even surprised Gahan himself.
“Originally we thought we would just demo some songs,” he explains, “but within the first week, it was obvious that we were doing more than that. And working with Andrew and Christian, we’re very comfortable with each other, and we understand each other musically. So we came up with the idea to just record and produce a record ourselves.”
Sonically, the record cuts across a large swathe of influences and styles with remarkable effortlessness and grace. Decidedly more electronic than Paper Monsters, it also conveys an almost primitive urgency, resulting from the excitement of three musicians working together for the first time and discovering genuine chemistry. And perhaps most important of all, letting their mistakes take them in new and unexpected directions.
“It wasn’t anything that was contrived,” says Gahan. “We wanted to do something that was less formulated, and so it became more organic, for want of a better word. It’s all kind of cut and paste.”
Eigner proves an incredibly versatile drummer, creating gentle rhythmic ambiance one moment, and thundering, freight-train beats the next. And with electronics providing most of the musical environment of Hourglass, Phillpott’s guitar playing roams freely into fantastical atmospherics, especially evident on the soaring epic “Kingdom.”
What might surprise Gahan followers most are the album’s moments of exhilarating industrial aggression, as in the blistering, hyper-sexual “Deeper and Deeper.”
Perhaps more importantly for the singer, Hourglass is a journey of the soul. In “Kingdom” he confesses that “Glory doesn’t mean that much to me” while wondering aloud if there really is something beyond what we can see with our own eyes—a superstar struggling to find a humbler self within him. And his personal doubts are in full evidence on the ethereal, Eno-esque “Miracles” where he admits, “I don’t believe in Jesus / But I’m praying anyway.”
To be sure, he doesn’t at all shy away from his uglier inner conflicts. On “Use You” he scathingly lets loose his considerable disgust with people in general, and himself specifically. And with “Down,” perhaps the most stark confessional on the entire record, he wearily croons, “I feel so old,” while admitting that, “Down on the ground is where I’m bound to end up.” It’s his blunt admission that no matter how far he’s crawled from it, for him, the abyss is never very far. His old demons are always, it seems, ready to drag him back down in.
But with Hourglass, not only has he intrepidly once again faced down those very same demons, but he’s also identified his greatest foe of all: time itself. And made at least a little peace with it.
“I don’t know if it’s about age, just getting older,” he wonders. “But there are certain things that just don’t work anymore. There’s no longer the luxury of being able to get blind drunk every night and just hide behind that. My fear is that I’ve wasted so much time in fear, in fear of diving in. I feel like I’m racing against the clock; I feel constantly like I haven’t got enough time to get to where I wanna be. And I think what I’m afraid of is what the future may hold, and am I doing anything of meaning?”
Hourglass actually answers his question for him. Gahan has veritably made the record that was probably always in him, but could only have been made now: a collection of songs not by the superstar frontman that world has come to know him as, but by the man underneath it all, who like everyone else, has fears, struggles, and has made some really big mistakes that he is determined to learn from.
“I feel this record has been an amazing opportunity to push the artist in me,” Gahan enthuses. “It doesn’t feel so much that the band is my identity anymore, although I owe everything to it. I’m starting to really feel that I have my own voice, and it’s definitely coming out in the songs. For me, it’s the best possible record I could make at this time. And it’s gone well beyond what I expected of myself.”
Yet he’s quick to conclude, “It’s about trying to find out who I am and being comfortable being that person in no matter what I’m doing. I think I’m still struggling with a relationship with myself.”
SONG BY SONG
“When we first started writing, I had that song in my head and in my heart; so I was dying to get on a mic and sing it. The lyrics are about sitting, waiting for something to come--protection of some kind, or some kind of answer. What I’ve come to learn is that you’ve got to go find it, take some action. I prefer to sit and wait, but it just doesn’t work. It sounds kind weird, but I do believe in that sort of divine intervention, if you allow it. If you allow life to happen, not try to push it in the direction you think it’s supposed to go in—which is what I spend a lot of time doing—then really amazing things happen, things that you didn’t expect. But you’ve got to take some action. This song, for me, is a starting point for something new in my life.”
“It’s this idea that there’s a better place, and it’s not up there in the clouds, it’s right here. And it’s about becoming more accepting of life and the way it is. I would be lying if I said the world didn’t affect me. I have children and I want to protect them; and sometimes I don’t really have the ability to do that.”
DEEPER AND DEEPER
“It is very sexual and very animal. But that’s a big part of me, too; and I wanted to expose that. I started singing it, and Christian said I would have to stand three feet from the mic—I was just screaming it out. I wanted it to have that feel of T. Rex, Gary Glitter, all those glam bands. But it’s really kind of a blues thing, just riffing on one idea.”
“This is built around a sort of Stooges drone, a bass guitar hit in a very strange way. It’s sung in my true voice, the way I just sort of spit things out. As for the lyrics, well, all these things creep in from what I read, what I see. And I do believe that we are building this tower of fear that we’re all going to live in, until we decide we’re not going to anymore."
“It’s one of my favorites, because it is so exposed. Visually, it’s kind of like coming in and out of the fog. Exposing a little bit of what I believe in but not really. I’m going to tell you that I don’t believe in Jesus but I’m gonna continue praying. Religion is not a concept that I...I think it’s archaic. But at the same time, there are many times I’ve found myself praying to something. If the lyrics are contradicting themselves, it’s because I’m contradicting myself all the time. The thing is, I don’t believe in miracles, but I see them happen in my life and in other people’s lives. I have total faith in life and love; I just don’t have any faith in people. But it’s really a love song. And I believe in love, but I’m also afraid of it. In the past, I lost myself completely, and if you’ve lost yourself, you can’t possibly have a relationship with anybody else. To have that in my life, to have a family, I realize it’s the most important thing.”
“It’s very sleazy. It’s about my disgust with people, myself, disgust with my arrogance and my self-sabotaging behavior. I wanna use something, I wanna use life to escape. I think it comes from being made to go to Sunday school when I was a kid. I heard it loud and clear, that we’re all sinners.”
“It’s just the word, I really like that word. It’s about something you can’t really touch, but you know it’s there. I felt like it wasn’t going to make it on the record, but we stripped it back, and it’s become drumless. Now I feel like it’s got a place.”
“It’s about trying to believe there’s something at the end of the tunnel that will somehow solve all the problems; it’s that illusion. We recorded 'Endless' in five different ways. We went a really hard way with it, and that just didn’t work. Then Andrew and Christian went out and ended up at some club and the DJ did this thing where he reversed the beat; and they came back all excited about it. So we let Christian go at it and he came up with this very off beat. I think that even in a pop format, if you push yourself and allow the experimentation, the song can go in so many different ways; it's very hypnotic, but it's also a pop song."
A LITTLE LIE
“It has a John McGeoch/Siouxsie Sioux kind of vibe to it. It’s very gothic, and of course there’s nothing wrong with goth. It’s like those songs that have real highs and lows and take you to an odd, sort of ethereal place. A lot of Depeche songs have that feeling; Martin and I are very much minor chord people. The beat is a sort of swamp crawl, something from the deep South, which comes from me listening to John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters. I was poking fun at myself a bit in this song, using this really bombastic opening, and then singing about how the time for that has sort of passed.”
“It’s one of my favorites. It’s almost got a kind of country feel to it. It’s the last little reflection of where I left off with Paper Monsters. Visually it’s reflecting back to the days when I wasn’t participating in life. There are certainly times when I’m still, like, fuck it, let’s crack open the bottle of Jack Daniels.”