Monday, 22nd January 2018. 5:34:27am ET
Reviews CD Reviews Alternative, Indie Rock Dave Gahan- Paper Monsters


 

 

 

 

 

 Artist: David Gahan

 Title: Paper Monsters

 Label:Reprise

Reviewer: Joshua Heinrich 

In 2001, Depeche Mode released Exciter, arguably their weakest album in over 15 years. After all of the fanfare and touring ended, the band temporarily parted ways to pursue their own musical endeavors. Dave Gahan, evidently feeling stifled by Martin Gore's songwriting dictatorship in Depeche Mode, began work on his first solo album. Despite 20 years of recording and touring with Depeche Mode, Gahan apparently hasn't learned to play any instruments, at least not proficiently. He therefore turned to friend and multi-instrumentalist Knox Chandler to help him flesh out some of his musical ideas. Assisted by producer Ken Thomas, they went into the studio and emerged with Paper Monsters. The album was met with mixed reviews from professionals and fans alike. While it's definitely not anywhere near the best album ever released and is, perhaps, bogged down by an excess of ballads, Paper Monsters is still a fairly solid debut effort.

 

 

Things start out on a high note, with a prosed guitar loop and drum buildup leading into the album's first single, "Dirty Sticky Floors". The track is a catchy, danceable rock number with a driving synth bassline, great slide guitar work, and rhythmic vocals (including a falsetto "ooo ooh"), giving the song something of an INXS vibe.

Unfortunately, the momentum of the first song quickly dies out as tracks two and three are the first of the album's numerous ballads. "Hold On" is a very nice upbeat ballad with electronic drums, guitar, and keyboards. It's not exactly a standout track, but it's a solid offering. "A Little Piece" is a less exceptional, fairly simple ballad that stretches over 5 minutes but manages to stay afloat and escape its repetitive song structure due to beautiful arrangements and haunting layered production. It's a moody track that doesn't necessarily hold up all that well on its own but works well in the flow of the album.

After a two-ballad lull, the album's momentum kicks back into full swing with "Bottle Living", a sleazy electronics-driven rock song that falls somewhere between Depeche Mode's "The Dead of Night" and "Burlesque" by The Mission (UK). The electronics are countered by harmonica and a great rock guitar riff on the chorus. It's a great track that definitely seems to be a favorite among fans.

On "Black and Blue Again", the album once again slows down, but this time hits another high note. Starting out as a slow and moody psychedelic rock track with a nice helping of 70s rock guitar and vocals somewhat reminiscent of The Mission's Wayne Hussey, the track slowly builds to an intense finish with string arrangements as Dave repeats "I'm not very nice." Then it's back to ballad land. "Stay" is a simple ballad that is incredibly emotional thanks to a heartfelt vocal performance from Dave accented by beautiful string and piano arrangements. It is once again somewhat reminiscent of INXS, or perhaps even some of the more ethereal ballad material from U2's The Joshua Tree album.

Then the pace once again picks up with what is perhaps the most Depeche Mode-esque track on Paper Monsters (as well as the album's second single), "I Need You". Shuffling electronic drums and synth bass accented by processed keyboards and ambient guitar work sometimes reminiscent of U2's The Edge come together to form a slow, mellow ambient dance track marred only by somewhat simplistic lyrics.

"I Need You" is followed by "Bitter Apple", a whimsical upbeat ballad centered around a simple 3-note bassline, mellow drums, and beautiful string arrangements. Originally my least favorite track on the album despite being well-written at performed, it definitely grew on me over repeated listens and proved to be a strong offering. Of course, it is somewhat overshadowed by the song that follows, "Hidden Houses", another of the album's top tracks. With an odd main chord progression, a heavier rock bridge, and a mellow uplifting chorus, "Hidden Houses" is a great rock song complete with a cool distorted wah solo that has drawn comparisons to The Cure, Smashing Pumpkins, and U2's "Bullet the Blue Sky".

The album ends on sort of a mixed bag. "Goodbye," a heavily produced song largely made up of backwards loops and a repetitive verse, is definitely not one of the album's better tracks, but it does have its moments. The moody buildup on the chorus is fairly captivating, as is the 30 second all-out attack of wailing distorted guitars and pounding drums that provide the heaviest moment on the album (although perhaps too short and too little to appease those that were hoping that Gahan's album would be more industrial or rock-oriented fare).

All in all, Gahan's solo debut is a solid mellow electronic rock album, although not something that is likely to get him a lot of attention or draw new fans. Dave does, however, sound more alive than he has in years. On Exciter, his vocals were cold and calculated, striving for technical perfection but lacking emotion. On Paper Monsters, he's singing his own words and conveying his own feelings (obviously drawing from and reflecting on his highly publicized past struggle with drug addiction and suicidal behavior rather than reading Martin's words from a piece of paper) and it shows by way of organic, heartfelt performances. While the album is far from amazing, it's still arguably the best thing to come out of the Depeche Mode camp since 1997's Ultra and perhaps shows that there is still hope for Depeche Mode fans who were disappointed with Exciter.


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