Depeche Mode's 130 date Global Spirit Tour ended in Berlin on July 25th 2018 and, following their by now standard plan, the band took a break, having concluded the tour. As soon as any Depeche Mode tour ends these days, fans' attention turns to the band's individual members, keen to hear what solo works may arrive before news of the next Depeche Mode album is known.
Martin Gore was the first to break cover with this year's wonderful The Third Chimpanzee ep and its accompanying remix ep; both released under his MG alias. Nothing came from Dave until his appearance on the Metallica Blacklist album, for which he provided a rather lovely cover of the song Nothing Else Matters. As it quickly turned out, that was not the only cover version Dave had been working on since we last saw him in 2018.
On October 4th this year, Dave Gahan started appearing on social media with accounts popping up on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. This was a first for Dave. These were under the name The Imposter, and later that day, the accounts confirmed that Dave and Soulsavers were returning with a new album called Imposter, an album of cover versions. The songs they had chosen were said to be "a reflection of Dave's life, a story told by others, but in his own distinct voice."
The choice of the album title is intriguing. In interviews Dave gave following the announcement of the album's release, he spoke of the role he inhabits when on-stage with Depeche Mode playing stadia and arenas all over the world and how that role that character is something he uses to allow him to give his voice to Martin Gore's lyrics. Certainly, the Dave we see on stage is very different to the Dave we see on this project, and I am sure, to the Dave we will see when he and Soulsavers play their London gig on December 5th. In many ways, the word "imposter" seems harsh as Dave is central to Depeche Mode's ability to continue to play sold-out world tours; however, as a concept for this album of songs that have directly inspired him, you can see why the record has that title.
The songs Dave and Soulsavers have chosen are a diverse and intriguing set, and you can hear what they mean to Dave in his delivery of each of them. He is an underrated vocalist and has a far broader range than he is given credit for. He fully embraces each song on this album, giving each a distinct feel and offering a unique take on the song. This isn't an album of cover versions done just for the sake of doing them; there is a meaning and a purpose behind each song, which gives the album a warmth many other cover versions lack.
As Dave's previous albums with Soulsavers show, there is a distinct Soulsavers sound. There are moments on this album where the listener would appreciate a little more variation with some light allowed to peek in through the velvet curtains shown on Dave's initial Instagram posts. Metal Heart, for example, a cover of the Cat Power song, never quite takes off, and while Not Dark Yet manages the commendable task of making Bob Dylan listenable, it is perhaps a track that could have been reserved for a B-Side should such things still exist.
Those grumbles aside, there are moments on this album where Dave and Soulsavers soar. The cover of A Man Needs A Maid, a Neil Young classic, is sensational. I wondered how Dave would tackle the vocal here, but he does it wonderfully with the song played in a key that perfectly suits his voice. The version of Rowland S Howard's Shut Me Down is the outstanding track on here and, if we really need to do this, it is the one that is closest to Depeche Mode in terms of feel and sound. It is tremendous. Mark Lanegan's Strange Religion is treated lovingly and sounds terrific, and the version of PJ Harvey's The Desperate Kingdom Of Love, a far rockier take than the magnificent original version on Uh Huh Her, is superb.
There are two tracks on here that you might call standards – Smile and Always On My Mind. I'd love to tell you that the latter is a note-by-note recreation of the finest version of that song – the full version on Pet Shop Boys' Introspective – but, of course, it isn't. It's a piano-led version of the song that holds few surprises, but Dave handles it well, stopping short of going anywhere near the Elvis plays the blues vocal style he slipped into when singing The Sweetest Condition on 2001's Exciter tour. Smile, on the other hand, is a real surprise. Dave sings the song delicately, backed in the main by a piano and its smoky, last song of the night before the bar closes feel is lovely. It would have been a superb track on which to close the album – the last song before The Imposter heads to bed for the night, his job done, his role fulfilled.
Whenever a member of Depeche Mode puts their name to anything that isn't Depeche Mode related, it is bound to attract all sorts of attention. I always try to listen to Depeche solo works on their own merits and not judge them against a back catalogue that most bands would kill to have produced even half of. With Imposter, Dave Gahan lets us hear what influences him, and it's clear these songs mean an awful lot to him. Having lived the life he has lived and been the person he has been to millions of people worldwide, he had nothing to prove, but he still wants to show what he can do and keep pushing himself. He's not an imposter; he's the real thing.