Cover versions are dangerous things. Be true to the original and you are boring; change them radically and you are a blasphemer. The more classic the tune, the more grave your heresy.
I love covers, and especially the heretic ones. I adore Type O Negative's take on The Beatles. And The Cardigans stints at Black Sabbath. And now that Johnny Cash is covering Nine Inch Nails, musical history is recycled and inverted in most fascinating ways, previously unheard of.
Also, I always looked for those few Depeche Mode songs featuring Martin rather than Dave on vocals. The delicate sensibility of his voice contrasted with the arena ambitions of Gahan, who could sometimes sound a bit out of place in the quieter songs.
So this cover album is long overdue. Not to trample on anybody's toes, I feel Depeche Mode have lately taken too much time from one of the greatest potential singer/songwriters of Britain. Listening to this album and Recoil's "Liquid", the musical marriage in heaven that was Martin Gore and Alan Wilder suddenly reveals itself to me. The melancholic songwriting of Gore in the cinematic and dark settings of Wilder were the parts that summed up some of the greatest dark pop classics ever. Depeche Mode without Wilder is still a good band, but I am not sure if it's still Depeche Mode.
Gore shares his former colleague's gloomy interests. His choice of covers here all share a common trait; they are universally dark, disturbed and unnerving. The change from the pleasant feel of the first "Counterfeit" EP is significant, but not surprising considering the, um, slight delay between releases. The songs all, save one, receive a careful electronic treatment that doesn't violate their original feel but sometimes serves to make them sound even more alienated and unreal. For instance, the disharmonic sound shifts in Gore's version of "In My Other World" (by Julee Cruise) makes the other world seem a whole lot more strange and twisted than in the naively dreamy original. He isn't really committing any heresies, but the renditions
are different enough to be interesting.
Some songs lend themselves to Gore's voice better than others. On David Essex's "Stardust" he transforms superbly into the spirit double of David Bowie, while he is unable to do the howling stalker of Nick Cave's desperate "Loverman" justice, being simply too amiable. "By This River" is originally by Brian Eno but brings back sweet memories from Depeche Mode ballads around 1986.
The greatest challenge here is probably "Lost in the Stars". Elvis Costello has already interpreted this existential and exquisite Kurt Weill song brilliantly, so the choice seems a little foolhardy. Still, Gore pulls it off nicely, and delivers a touching performance, wisely deciding to keep the song acoustic and unchanged. Another highlight is Nico's "Das Lied vom
einsamen Mädchen", sung in fluent German and vibrating with barely contained, menacing tension.
If this is what Martin Gore can manage between Depeche Mode releases, I would love to hear what he could do with more time on his hands.