Today Depeche Mode singer Dave Gahan turns 50 years old. This is a remarkable achievement, in that he was once declared legally dead but still looks like he's 20. Not only that, but he, Martin Gore and Andrew Fletcher are easily the most popular and influential electronic-rock band of all time, still going strong and making some of the best music of their career. DM is now working on a new album and plans to tour the world, again, next year.
I would like to extend my own personal birthday wishes to Gahan. I admire him because not only has he been one of my favorite rock and roll singers for a long time -- his sultry, smoldering style has a little Bryan Ferry, a little Bowie -- he is also one of the only other people I know of who has managed to drive himself into a heart attack at younger than 40. It's not easy to do, even if you work at it.
That was in October 1993, when Gahan was only 31 and having a little too much fun on Depeche Mode's Devotional Tour. But two days later, he was onstage singing at the Summit. He's a tough dude.
Depeche Mode has released an abundance of compilations over the years, starting with 1985's Catching Up With Depeche Mode and culminating in the six-part Singles Box monster several years back. Most recently, some of the biggest names in EDM (M83, UNKLE, Royksopp) lovingly tweaked Gahan's vocals on last year's Remixes 2.
Unless you're Dave Gahan, racking up that kind of catalog can get a little expensive, so to give newcomers a little push (and say happy birthday), I picked out five of my favorites.
"Everything Counts": The same song as AC/DC's "Moneytalks," except written almost a decade earlier: Band signs record contract, is shocked and amazed that promoters and label men may not be looking out for their best interests. But seriously, not only does "Everything Counts" make sound like getting taken to the cleaners fun, it crystallized Depeche Mode's interest in industrial music. Gahan's bandmate and DM's principal lyricist at the time, Martin Gore, wrote it after going to an Einsturzende Neubauten show.
Album: Construction Time Again (1983)
"Blasphemous Rumors": If Gore was trying to get away from Depeche Mode's early image as synth-pop pretty boys who only sang lightweight love songs ("Dreaming of Me"), he did a good job with this one shaking an angry fist at an indifferent God for allowing an innocent British girl to get hit by a car and end up on a respirator. For his part, Gahan manages to sing lines like "I think that God's got a sick sense of humor" without turning into a total buzzkill.
Album: Some Great Reward (1984)
"Personal Jesus": There is a moment when Depeche Mode does "Personal Jesus" live, right after Gahan sings "reach out touch faith," when time freezes for a split-second. Then the barrage of keyboards, guitars and drums comes in and the audience goes off like a cherry bomb. Even after the aptly named Music for the Masses, "Personal Jesus" was all the proof anyone needed that Depeche Mode belonged in the arena-rock big leagues. Notable remixes include the "Sensual Mix," "Holier Than Thou Approach" and "Telephone Stomp Mix."
Album: Violator (1990)
"Walking in My Shoes": Never mind that heart attack, Gahan was well on his way to ODing -- which he would eventually do in 1996 -- by the time Songs of Faith and Devotion came along, so DM's experiment into both grunge and gospel could have been a complete disaster. But they got the balance right on this dramatic, bluesy track that shuffles past the graveyard.
Album: Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993)
"Wrong": Supple and squelchy, this highlight of DM's most recent album is fluid and a little flippant, but Gahan gets away with it. He invests lyrics like "I was marching to the wrong drum, with the wrong scum / Pissing out the wrong energy" with a measure of battle-tested wisdom instead of making them merely unpleasant.
Album: Sounds of the Universe (2009)
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"Master and Servant" "A Question of Lust" "Fly on the Windscreen" "Never Let Me Down Again" "It's No Good"