ALBUM MUTE, PLAYGROUND RELEASE:
APRIL 28, 2003 REVIEW: MARCH 17, 2003
versions are dangerous things. Be true to the original and you are boring;
change them radically and you are a blasphemer. The more classic the tune,
the more grave your heresy.
I love covers, and especially the heretic ones. I adore Type O Negative's
take on The Beatles. And The Cardigans stints at Black Sabbath. And now
that Johnny Cash is covering Nine Inch Nails, musical history is recycled
and inverted in most fascinating ways, previously unheard of.
Also, I always looked for those few Depeche Mode songs featuring Martin
rather than Dave on vocals. The delicate sensibility of his voice contrasted
with the arena ambitions of Gahan, who could sometimes sound a bit out
of place in the quieter songs.
So this cover album is long overdue. Not to trample on anybody's toes,
I feel Depeche Mode have lately taken too much time from one of the greatest
potential singer/songwriters of Britain. Listening to this album and Recoil's
"Liquid", the musical marriage in heaven that was Martin Gore
and Alan Wilder suddenly reveals itself to me. The melancholic songwriting
of Gore in the cinematic and dark settings of Wilder were the parts that
summed up some of the greatest dark pop classics ever. Depeche Mode without
Wilder is still a good band, but I am not sure if it's still Depeche Mode.
Gore shares his former colleague's gloomy interests. His choice of covers
here all share a common trait; they are universally dark, disturbed and
unnerving. The change from the pleasant feel of the first "Counterfeit"
EP is significant, but not surprising considering the, um, slight delay
between releases. The songs all, save one, receive a careful electronic
treatment that doesn't violate their original feel but sometimes serves
to make them sound even more alienated and unreal. For instance, the disharmonic
sound shifts in Gore's version of "In My Other World" (by Julee
Cruise) makes the other world seem a whole lot more strange and twisted
than in the naively dreamy original. He isn't really committing any heresies,
but the renditions
are different enough to be interesting.
Some songs lend themselves to Gore's voice better than others. On David
Essex's "Stardust" he transforms superbly into the spirit double
of David Bowie, while he is unable to do the howling stalker of Nick Cave's
desperate "Loverman" justice, being simply too amiable. "By
This River" is originally by Brian Eno but brings back sweet memories
from Depeche Mode ballads around 1986.
The greatest challenge here is probably "Lost in the Stars".
Elvis Costello has already interpreted this existential and exquisite
Kurt Weill song brilliantly, so the choice seems a little foolhardy. Still,
Gore pulls it off nicely, and delivers a touching performance, wisely
deciding to keep the song acoustic and unchanged. Another highlight is
Nico's "Das Lied vom
einsamen Mädchen", sung in fluent German and vibrating with
barely contained, menacing tension.
If this is what Martin Gore can manage between Depeche Mode releases,
I would love to hear what he could do with more time on his hands.