His 2003 solo debut Paper Monsters had been an uncertain affair, as Dave Gahan for the first time wrote his own tracks. Two decades of huge stadium rock showmanship at the helm of Depeche Mode meant he had a good understanding of how to write the music he wanted to make, but he maybe hadn’t quite got the hang of how to pull it off yet.
The follow-up Hourglass is very different indeed. Right from the first notes of Saw Something, you seem to hear a confidence that didn’t seem to have been there last time around. It’s fantastic – there’s a cello! There’s guitar work from John Frusciante!
Lead single Kingdom is next, every bit as good as any of the Depeche Mode singles of the last couple of decades – but not quite as successful. Whereas all three singles from the first album had reached respectable positions, this one stalled at number 44, and during a period when his contemporaries were still doing reasonably well. There’s nothing at all wrong with the song – it just didn’t quite do its job at promoting the album.
The third track is the dark and grimy Deeper and Deeper, released as a non-chart-qualifying double a-side with Saw Something early in 2004, which narrowly failed to reach the UK Top 100. It might be somewhat lacking the charm of some of Depeche Mode‘s noisier moments, but it’s still a catchy piece of electro-grime.
The rock track 21 Days that follows is great – it’s another grimy piece, but with a rhythmic and vocal quality that works extremely well. Gahan still isn’t really trying to do anything new here, but it’s a great example of what he does best.
There’s plenty of that in show here, anyway – for Miracles, we get a bit of “faith” and some “devotion” for a sweet, slow rock track with a particularly good vocal performance. But that’s the key really – if you’ve listened to Songs of Faith and Devotion, you’ll have already heard most of the ideas on here – add on Playing the Angel, and it should all sound very familiar indeed.
In spite of being pretty much exactly the right length to fit on one LP, it was inexplicably released as a double album, so I don’t even get to refer to Use You as the start of Side B (it opens Side C instead). It’s another grimy rock piece, with some nice effects work and a catchy chorus.
Insoluble is one of the weaker tracks on here, but that isn’t really saying a lot. Endless is better, with its dirty swing beat, but it’s A Little Lie that’s the last real moment of genius on here. It’s another slower piece, with lots of huge drums and another huge vocal performance, and it somehow comes together brilliantly. And then finally, the album ends with the pleasant but largely forgettable Down, the one where Gahan tries to channel Creep but doesn’t entirely pull it off.
So Hourglass may, in retrospect, be just a touch unambitious – but it is a good showcase of Dave Gahan‘s vocal talents and relatively new-found songwriting skills. It may not be essential for everyone, but if you like Depeche Mode, it’s definitely well worth owning.
You can still find Hourglass at all major retailers.