Depeche Mode article

The big caption says "On the crest of a new wave"

Smaller caption: Back from the brink with a fine new album, Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode teels ANDREW SMITH about life and near-death]

It's hard not to feel slightly self-conscious as you sit in the bar of a swish central London hotel with Dave Gahan, listening to him describe the past seven years of his life with Depeche Mode. This is not because he is a rock star, though something about his lank hair and the confidence with which he juxtaposes faux-Oxfam green-checked flares and white patent loafers will leave nobody in any doubt that he is. The thing is, people are eavesdropping and what they are hearing sounds like a scene from the spoof rock-documentary Spinal Tap, but reshot by Abel Ferrara or Quentin Tarantino. It would be funny if it wasn't so deeply unfunny.

That the singer and his colleagues, song-writer Martin Gore and instrumentalist Andy Fletcher, are all still alive is remarkable. That they are in town to talk about a new album, Ultra - their first for four years and quite possibly the best of their 12(!!) so far - borders on the preposterous. Death must view the 34-year-old Gahan's relatively healthy and youthful demeanour as a personal insult.

What's more, this is their first record on which Gahan's contribution really counts, taking Gore's melancholy clectro-pop creations to places they might otherwise not have gone. After the way he'd abused his body, both internally and externally, Gahan had to relearn how to sing, and it turned out that an unexpectedly expressive instrument bad been hiding behind his famously adequate drone. All of which adds up to a very strange story. When our conversation draws to a close with him earnestly declaring that "I feel really, _really_ lucky", you can feel everyone in the room exhaling deeply and trying to resist reaching for a hanky to mop their forehead.

Depeche Mode scored their first hit with New Life in 1981, when most of them were just out of their teens. All of their albums have made the UK Top 10 and there have been close to 30 Top 20 singles. But it wasn't until the Violator album in 1990 that America sat up and took notice, perhaps because it marked the final phase of an evolution from eager young synth-popsters to the world's foremost purveyors of angstful electronic rock. Gradually, Gore's songs had become darker and denser: his group's sound more melancholy and "industrial". America loved it.

A long US tour followed, during which Gahan began to be seduced by the idea of being a real American rock star. He grew his hair and a goatee, had lots of painful tattoos done. Eventually he left his English wife and five-year-old son just as his own father had left him at six months) and moved to Los Angeles to live with the American publicist from the tour. He fell in with lots of LA rock stars and, as was fashionable in those circles, took up heroin. When he eventually flew back to Europe to begin work on a follow-up to Violator, his colleagues hardly recognised him. Unable to work together, they agreed to take a break before reconvening.

The album that the quartet went on to record was Songs of Faith and Devotion, which made No 1 on both sides of the Atlantic. But before the 14-month tour to promote it had begun, Fletcher had experienced what doctors termed "a breakdown". The members were getting on badly. Soon they would be travelling in different limos. They took a therapist on the road with them, and that didn't help. In New Orleans, Gahan couldn't do an encore because he had overdosed and had a heart attack. Gore had begun having panic attacks; in LA, he had a seizure in the middle of a business meeting. Fletcher had to be forcibly sent home because he was so depressed and ill, having become convinced that he had a brain tumour. All things considered, you have to applaud Depeche Mode's decision not to tour this time around. Gahan wasn't finished, though. His second marriage was breaking up because of his addiction. His first wife no longer trusted him to look after his son. He went into rehab twice, twice resumed his addiction, and tried to commit suicide. He joined the rest of the group in New York to record Ultra, but managed only one usable vocal (to Sister of Night). They packed him back to LA with a warning to clean up, but he went on a binge instead. On the night of May 28 last year, he overdosed with a mixture of heroin and cocaine. His heart stopped for two minutes, before paramedics managed to revive him. Gore, Fletcher and Alan Wilder (who has since left the group) watched the reports on the news the next day.

Gahan has been "clean" for nine months now, which means abstaining from alcohol as well as drugs, and has rebuilt his relationship with his son. He has also made the decisive contribution to Depeche Mode's most deft and adventurous album. The mood of Ultra seems to reflect the group's recent experience, ranging as it does from the churning paranoia of Barrel of a Gun to newly reflective tunes such as the sweet, drifting Home and trip-hoppy Freestate, with its lovely slide-guitar motif.

Later, sitting outside the restaurant Fletcher owns just off Abbey Road in north London, Gore will deny (as he always does) having written many of the words with his singer in mind. Nevertheless, Gahan feels as though they are for him.

The period of refocusing that has been forced on Gahan has clearly left a mark. He laughs about the way he and his partners squabbled in rehearsals for an appearance on TFI Friday two weeks ago and talks about the group in terms of a marriage, with all its attendant problems. He also openly wonders at length whether he wants to continue making the sacrifices entailed by being in a band. He has been staying in this hotel for the best part of a year and has been rootless for the past seven. "I mean," he will say, "I've just spent a week with my son and it's so simpie. I got a lot of pleasure from that." At points, you wonder whether this might be the last album he makes with Depeche Mode. That would be a shame. But as you leave Gahan, you can't help feeling pleased for him, and for his new belief that he has a choice.

Sunday Times (page 16), April 13th 1997

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