(1997) The Boston Globe, April, 16st
By JIM SULLIVAN
The Boston Globe
(April 16) - It was last year, near the end of May in Los
Angeles, and Depeche Mode's lead singer Dave Gahan found himself
awakening out of something - a very deep sleep, perhaps? - and he
groggily asked the paramedic next to him the painful, and
painfully obvious, question: ''Did I overdose again?''
''No, David, you died,'' said the paramedic. ''You flatlined
for a couple of minutes. You were actually dead.''
What was ''death'' like? Was there a warm and welcoming white
No. ''All I remember is being really, really scared,'' says
Gahan, speaking from London. ''I can't even explain how scared I
felt and how wrong it felt. I was in this complete blackness and
I felt something inside of me... I realized this is not what I
wanted, death, and it wasn't the solution and it was for the
first time - slowly, very very obviously - where I felt I was not
going to the right place.''
You can't bottom out much more than that, although Gahan, now
35, came close the previous summer when he slit his wrist in a
suicide attempt. His subsequent heroin and cocaine overdose was
the final straw, the epiphany. It came after Depeche Mode had
recorded songs for its upcoming album, after sessions in New York
that had not gone well for Gahan. Back in LA, his home at the
time, an arrest and incarceration followed the overdose. Gahan
was placed in a ''diversion program,'' mandated by the court.
It's a regimen that includes drug tests and counseling for at
least a year. At present, Gahan has been clean 10 months. Aiding
in his recovery were Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, both
of whom had battled drug abuse.
His prodigious drug intake, Gahan now says, was an attempt to
counter his sense of self-loathing, to block questions of
identity. It was also, he admits, a cliched situation where he
tumbled into the most obvious rock-star tar pit. ''I created this
person, or this mask and image of myself, this textbook rock
star, and not knowing what to do with it ... I put down the
As Gahan nearly died, so did Depeche Mode.
''There were a couple of points where it seemed very
improbable that we would carry on,'' says Martin Gore, the band's
songwriter and guitarist and one of its synthesists. ''I was
having to consider the prospect of finishing the record on my
That didn't happen. Gahan pulled through, the band came
together, and between sessions in New York and London, the album
was finished last year.
Keep in mind that while Depeche Mode had been on the sidelines
since its exhaustive world tour ended in 1994 - and thus not a
part of everyone's mind-set in this quick hit-turnover era -
Depeche Mode is one of alternative rock's biggest brand names, a
superstar band, one of the first to make it to arena status in
During the early 1980s the British band, initially under the
leadership of Vince Clarke (now of Erasure), and, later, Gore,
pioneered the synthesizer-based new wave. Some of its music was
directed toward the dance floor; other music, more cerebral and
moody, found its audience among the young and disaffected.
To date, Depeche Mode has sold more than 30 million albums
worldwide. Its last, ''Songs of Faith and Devotion,'' accounted
for 4.5 million, 1.5 million in the States. ''Barrel of a Gun,''
the advance single from its upcoming album ''Ultra'' (out
Tuesday), went to No. 1 in nine European countries and was a
modest modern rock hit here earlier this year. The new single,
''It's No Good,'' debuted at No. 4 in England last week. The
video just aired on MTV's ''120 Minutes,'' and the single will
come out a week after the album.
Still, it's almost a miracle that there is Depeche Mode at
You can't entirely blame Gahan for the mess Depeche Mode found
itself in three years ago. Following the '93-94 world tour,
synthesist-programmer Alan Wilder quit. ''Fine,'' said Gore. ''We
shook his hand and said 'See you around.' '' For his part, Gore
also dived into the deep end of a few pools of typical rock
excess. Synthesist Andy Fletcher underwent his travails.
''Depression,'' he says, ''which is not a thing that makes
headlines. Putting needles in your arms and getting arrested is
the sort of thing that makes headlines.''
When it set about to make ''Ultra,'' Depeche Mode recruited
techno-wiz Tim Simenon of Bomb the Bass to fill Wilder's spot. He
brought in three other musicians to flesh out the sound. The
15-month recording process, done mostly in London and New York,
was anything but placid. ''When I got back, the relationships in
the band weren't good,'' says Fletcher. ''But in the last six
months, we got along real well. It completely changed around.
Martin started to write songs that were really good.''
Gahan is the main voice, but Gore is the central creative
force - the guy behind ''Black Celebration,'' ''Blasphemous
Rumours,'' and ''Personal Jesus.'' He's always mixed darkness and
light, brooding introspection and infectious, insinuating melody.
A somber quality is ever-present. ''We do have this dark
quality,'' Gore concedes, ''but the overall result is somehow
optimistic. It's a very strange mixture I've never quite
There is also a certain spirituality, evidenced throughout
their career and, on ''Ultra,'' in ''The Love Thieves,''
''Home,'' and ''Insight.'' ''Religion has held my attention,''
says Gore. ''There's always been a fascination for me although
I've never followed any type of religion. It's just one of those
things - God attracts me.
''I've always been searching,'' he continues. ''I don't think
I've ever quite - I'm almost singing a U2 song here! I won't.
I'll rethink ... You just somehow try to work out your place.''
The musical and lyrical contours of ''Ultra'' suggest
melancholia, loss, desperation, and isolation. The terse ''Barrel
of a Gun'' seems to address Gahan's pain, addiction, and
predilection for self-destruction.
''Martin's songs are always very personal,'' says Gahan, ''and
this is more personal than the last album, which was a lot more
bombastic. ... I felt close to some of 'Ultra' in the lyrics and
stuff, but I've felt like that for a long time.'' Gahan says he
truly enjoyed the album's last stretch of recording. His voice
was strong and he felt as if he was getting his rock legs back.
But while they'll make their US network TV debut on ''The
Tonight Show'' May 15, there won't be any tour.
''I spent the last year getting my life back together,'' says
Gahan. ''It would not be good to try to go out on the big stage.
It's not even so much the debauchery that goes along with
touring. It's a personal kind of sanity, and the frame of mind
you get into - different times and cities every day - is very
disorienting. I'm just getting settled again after a couple of
years of turmoil. I think all of us are in a similar frame of
The Boston Globe, April, 16st 1997