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Dueling band joes
Dave Gahan and Martin Gore in solo Mode
BY TED DROZDOWSKI

Dave Gahan and Martin Gore are the Robert Plant and the Jimmy Page of the doom-and-gloom set, a flexible singer with a knack for getting at raw emotions teamed with a musical genius. And the band they started 22 years ago, Depeche Mode, are the Led Zeppelin of moody, romantic pop and roll. Rarely has misery sounded so grand and chipper as in early hits like the blithely arranged study of the racial divide, "People Are People," and the dour, lovely contemplation of a godless universe, "Blasphemous Rumors." Using elements like sampling and found sounds, Depeche Mode blazed the synth-pop trail to win millions of fans and make piles of money, enduring not only the musicís first wave but its late-í90s comeback better than any other band of their kind.

Sincerity and evolution have been the keys to their long life. Today, when they perform numbers preaching the joys of spiritual uplift like "Shine" and "Freelove," from their latest album, 2001ís Exciter (Mute/Reprise), they mean it, man ó just as much as when in the old days they meant that God was a sardonic bastard. Over the years, theyíve found the promise of redemption through their melancholy music, working their way from songs of powerlessness to anthems of empowerment.

So itís hardly surprising that both Gahan and Gore are releasing new solo albums. Gahanís is by far the more serious, full of numbers that would feel comfortable on a Depeche Mode album despite the fact that his new Paper Monsters (Mute/Reprise) marks his debut as a songwriter. Goreís Counterfeit2 (Mute/Reprise) is more of a lark: he takes a break from his duties as chief songwriter and musical mastermind to pick the bones of some of his favorites by Lou Reed, Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, and even Kurt Weill.

The good news is that Paper Monsters is thoroughly enjoyable. Gahan and his multi-instrumentalist pal and co-writer, Knox Chandler, donít quite have Goreís gift for snappy pop choruses, but they come close. And the closer Gahan sticks to what he knows, the better he sounds. "Bottle Living," likely inspired by his own drug issues, is a neat little portrait of the obsession and the lies that come with alcoholism, and itís sung with a soul manís fervor. "Dirty Sticky Floors" is likely to find a home on radio with its slinky dance beat, processed guitars, low-toned synth grind, and Gahanís sultry vocal. Itís a love song swept by the spirit of hopeless devotion ó exactly the kind of thing Depeche Modeís fans are likely to embrace. Elsewhere the CD buzzes, purrs, and pulses with the bold beats and sonic whirligigs that are also Depeche Mode signatures. Which means Gahan should have no trouble filling Avalon when he plays a July 26 date there on his first solo tour.

Goreís Counterfeit2 is pricklier. Thereís nothing on this sequel to his 1989 Counterfeit (Mute/Reprise) thatís as charming or pop-friendly as the tunes on Paper Monsters. Some of the numbers actually make for unpleasant listening. Goreís singing of Reedís "Candy Says," which is set to a dark and slow rumbling arrangement, is done with utter banality. And his take on bluesman Blind Willie Johnsonís "Jesus Make Up My Dying Bed," renamed and reworked as "In My Time of Dying" (shades of Zeppelin again!), gets an interesting electro-pop backbone but goes limp with the bloodlessness of his vocal performance. Thereís also a painfully pretentious croon through Weillís "Lost in the Stars," with piano and string accompaniment.

Gore fares better with Caveís "Loverman," which gets the full, dark electronic treatment. His synths and drum machines beat like the heart of the songís devil, feverishly closing in on another soul. And Brian Enoís "By This River" rides the tide of computerized trills and trinkles Gore constructs around its lyrics to a successful conclusion.

By eschewing Depeche Modeís heart-on-sleeve approach, Gore puts a distance between himself and most of Counterfeit2ís material that makes it all seem slight and not terribly important to him. Staying the course, on the other hand, Gahan has proven that heís more than a mouthpiece and a pretty face. The creative interior of this solo artist seems much like the exterior heís shown us all these years in Depeche Mode.

Dave Gahan comes to Avalon on Saturday July 26; call (617) 931-2000.

Issue Date: July 11 - July 17, 2003
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