Album review

Dave Gahan : Paper Monsters

Dave Gahan : Paper MonstersBack in the days when I was club DJing regularly, I was often asked which of the music that I'd played that night did I actually like myself. Now the truth is that I liked virtually everything that I played - after all, playing music you hate all evening isn't much fun. However, if I'd had a bad night, the response was likely to be, "None of it, it's all shit . . ." As you can tell, I'm a real people person. On a good night, I'd explain that I liked all of it, but in an ideal world I'd be playing music from my two favorite bands, The Ramones and Depeche Mode.
    Now, even as a die-hard Ramones fan I'd be hard pushed to argue that many of their albums are classics. But the Ramones experience was always about more than their records. Depeche Mode are a different proposition. I'd be quite happy to argue that they haven't released a weak album since 1983's Construction Time Again, and even that contained gems like Everything Counts and Two Minute Warning.

Throughout their 20 plus year career, Dave Gahan has always been lucky enough to be supported by gifted songwriters. Whether spawned from the dark visions of Martin Gore or the early 'tinkly bonk excursions' of Vince Clarke, Depeche Mode's songs always played to Gahan's strengths as a vocalist, and rarely exposed his limitations.
    To my knowledge, Paper Monsters marks Dave Gahan's first release outside of the Depeche Mode camp. Even with the most driven band members, solo releases of this nature seem little more than vanity projects, so the fact that it's taken Gahan over 20 years to stray from the fold didn't bode well. There was always a seed of hope, but I was expecting the worst . . .

Well, to say Paper Monsters is an unexpected surprise is an understatement. Its lows are few and its highs often surpass the best tracks on Depeche Mode's last CD, Exciter. Kicking off with the twilight goth rock of the single Dirty Sticky Floors, Paper Monsters sees Gahan opening the doors to his inner demons, and letting them out in a musical catharsis that is rarely less than engaging.
    The chilling beats of A Little Piece underlay the words of a man who has clearly seen the seamier side of life close up, and the I Feel You guitar twang that propels Bottle Living does little to disguise a song which pulls no lyrical punches.
    The six minute Bitter Apple has got to be Paper Monsters' highlight. A beautiful melody and bruised strings form the basis of a song which is both melancholy and uplifted at the same time. The fact that this, and the similarly remarkable Hidden Houses and Goodbye are hidden away at the end of this disc says a great deal about the quality and consistency of this remarkable CD.
    Against all odds, Dave Gahan and co-writer Knox Chandler have produced an honest and understated album which has got to be considered one of the best releases of the year so far. File under ‘essential’.

:: Rowan Shaeffer

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