In my humble opinion, Dave Gahan is the greatest frontman of all time. If one wants to see proof of this fact, one needs only to watch Devotional, the concert film documenting the Songs of Faith & Devotion tour Depeche Mode embarked on in 1993. Gahan is absolutely electrifying in the film; I can’t help but think that if he told the audience on that tour to go home and kill their friends and family, the audience would have done so. He had the crowd rapt.
But in a very real sense, Dave Gahan is not the frontman of Depeche Mode. Martin Gore is the main songwriter, lyricist, and creative chief of the group. In fact, one could very readily argue that Depeche Mode’s golden era (roughly from 1986’s Black Celebration to the 1993 tour I mentioned earlier) was entirely Gore’s doing; after all, Dave Gahan was drugged out of his mind for most of this time and only contributed pre-written lead vocals to albums and tours, leaving most instrumentation and all backing vocals to Gore.
Furthermore, Gore has lead vocal duties on at least one song on every Depeche Mode album to date (with the exception of 1982’s A Broken Frame). Let’s face it: Martin Gore is Depeche Mode. Dave Gahan is just the face.
In celebration of Gore, here are the top 7 songs that are 100% him: written, performed, and fronted by the man himself.
It’d be hard to argue that Playing the Angel, the 2005 album this song appears on, is Depeche Mode’s best. While certainly a standout of their late-period work, the album gets pretty weak in the middle and end after a very strong beginning. But “Damaged People” is a terrific song, made all-the-better by Gore’s trademark baritone delivery drenched in audio effects. The album was written while Gore was going through a bitter divorce, and this song seems to be a documentation of his last gasp at trying to sustain that relationship.
The Things You Said
While lyrically and musically this song is simple and blunt, “The Things You Said” features one of Gore’s best vocal deliveries ever recorded. At once pained and angry while simultaneously being powerful and beautiful, his rhythmic enunciation of “How can a view become so twisted” and “I’ve never felt so disappointed” ring pure and true. If I were the person this song is about, I would steer clear of Gore for the rest of my life.
Gore makes no secret about his devotion to Christ and Christianity (which makes the sensual and sometimes even explicitly sexual imagery of his lyrics quite befuddling), but this song is one of the few where he really lets that flag fly. Dropping a bunch of Biblical names and references while preaching about sacrifice and holiness, it’s hard to know if Gore is talking specifically about Christ or about how he adheres to the teachings of Christ. Either way, the song is hauntingly beautiful.
If “Enjoy The Silence” is Depeche Mode’s anthem of intimacy, then “Somebody” is their anthem of loneliness. This quiet, piano-and-vocal track is essentially a laundry list of the things Gore looks for in a partner…and how surprised he is he hasn’t found that yet. As tongue-in-cheek as it is sincere, “Somebody” is the kind of song that pained teenagers pining for someone will always have in their music collection.
Every Depeche Mode fan knew this song would be somewhere on this list, as it’s one of the very few songs that has the trifecta of a) being sung by Gore, b) actually a radio hit, and c) played at pretty much every concert they’ve done since its release. But the reason that’s all the case is because it’s so damn good. The lush strings, the driving kick drum beat, and of course Gore’s incredibly hooky chorus vocal makes the song shine over much of their catalog. Not only is this one of the best Gore songs, it’s one of the best Depeche Mode songs in general.
I could write pages and pages on the beauty of this song. The strings, the lyrics, Gore’s vocal delivery, the sentiment…all utter perfection. But what I’m really listening for in the song is the final chorus, where the strings become overwhelmingly loud and Gore seems to be on the floor in tears as he pines for that “one caress” from his lover, so he can once again be “blessed”. The captivating gorgeousness of this song makes my heart swell.
Not only is this my number one Gore song, it is absolutely in my top five Depeche Mode songs in general. The bass line (actually a synth) gives this song a kind of demonic bounce that I don’t think I’ve ever heard another band emulate. And when Gore spits out, “I want the real thing, not tokens” I tend to close my eyes and think to myself, “Yes, Martin. Hell yes.” Is this song the world’s greatest love song or a song of such abhorrent obsession that the writer should be locked away? That’s for the listener to decide.