Gahan hasn’t arrived at the palace of wisdom yet, but it sounds like he’s enjoying travelling this new route there.

Just over a decade ago, Depeche Mode’s Dave Gahan crashed a speedball in a Los Angeles hotel room. It wasn’t the troubled singer’s first overdose, but it was his most serious. His heart stopped beating for a full two minutes, and paramedics pronounced him clinically dead en route to the hospital. Needless to say, he survived, but the incident was both the apex and the nadir of the Essex boy’s overblown ‘Rock God’ period.

This brush with death propelled Gahan off the road of excess and prompted a blinding realisation about his place in the scheme of things. In Depeche Mode, he was little more than Martin Gore’s vicarious Tyler Durden – a wild, decadent and leather-clad alter ego, doing all the dirty work out front.

Having undergone some intense rehabilitation, Gahan decided he wanted to start writing songs himself. He certainly wasn’t short of life – or death – experiences for lyrical inspiration. Gore wasn’t willing to pass the creative ball though, so the newly clean and sober Gahan eventually released a superb solo album – 2003’s guitar-driven and mockingly self-recriminatory Paper Monsters.

By all accounts, he then stated that unless he could contribute some of his songs, there wouldn’t be another Mode album. Gore reluctantly relented, and three Gahan compositions featured on 2005’s Playing The Angel.

His second solo release – composed and produced with Christian Eigner and Andrew Phillpott (Mode’s touring drummer and programmer, respectively) – finds the reformed hedonist growing even more comfortable in his new artistic role.

Once again, it’s predominantly a confessional, regretful and redemptive affair with the occasional anguished scream and blast of industrial noise. Musically, it’s decidedly more electronic than his last effort and full of subtleties and surprises. Tracks like ‘Kingdom’ and the bellowed ‘Use You’ wouldn’t sound out of place on a Mode album, but elsewhere there’s a far more contemplative personal tone. Occasionally, he even sounds warm. On the gorgeously ambient ‘Insoluble’, he repeatedly croons the comforting line, “You have nothing to fear.”

Dark, broody and edgy, but interspersed with flashes of light, realisation and hope, Hourglass isn’t as instantly accessible as some Mode fans might wish. But give these songs some time, and you’ll find that what they lack in structure and melodic immediacy, they more than compensate for in depth and honesty.

Gahan hasn’t arrived at the palace of wisdom yet, but it sounds like he’s enjoying travelling this new route there.


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