Depeche Mode singer Dave Gahan has, it has to be said, lived a life. His public battles with drugs made for lurid headlines in the 90s, yet he somehow emerged from his troubles intact. Of late, as well as his main job singing with Depeche Mode, he has been recording with electronic wizards Soulsavers. This is his third album with them, and it consists entirely of cover versions. The cover version album is a well-trodden path and produces mixed results. Some covers stay too close to the originals, rendering the project as mere karaoke. There are other routes, some artists make the cover unrecognisable, turning it into something along the lines of their own material. And then there is the rare case, exemplified by Johnny Cash’s American Recording series where an artist truly inhabits the song, infusing it with their spirit and bringing it somewhere else.
So where does this fit in? The album avoids obscurity, concentrating mainly on reasonably well-known artists and songs. Soulsavers provide their customary gospel-tinged backing and Dave Gahan bellows out the songs, with mixed results. It’s difficult to get the image of Gahan in his late 1980s pomp dancing around singing these songs as opposed to who he is now, a man of nearly 60.
Without doubt, Dave Gahan has a powerful voice. Sometimes it works but other times it comes off as a little overwrought. The Dark End of the Street suffers from overfamiliarity and other than Gahan’s singing style, brings little new to this version. What follows is a pleasant but slightly nondescript version of Mark Lanegan’s Strange Religion, coming across as Lanegan-lite. Later there is a rather plodding rendition of Bob Dylan’s Not Dark Yet.
There is a growling, noisy version of I Held My Baby Last Night. Weirdly, they cover Neil Young’s A Man Needs A Maid, the second cover of this song that has come across No More Workhorse’s desk in 2021. This is one is quite faithful to the original, bar Gahan’s vocals, which are an octave or two lower than Young’s.
It works best with the vintage material Lilac Wine and an extraordinary version of Smile. On these, the instrumentation is kept low key, allowing Gahan to sing the shit out of the songs. And if that’s not enough, he also does a fine version of Cat Power’s Metal Heart. A twangy version of Rowland S Howard’s Shut Me Down also works very well. Even their version of the closing Always On My Mind sounds decent.
I don’t know if this is what Depeche Mode fans really want to hear from Dave Gahan, and at times you miss that ‘creepy’ quality that Martin Gore brings to Depeche Mode. Though it’s a mixed bag, it’s never dull and generally an enjoyable listen.