The driving force behind the world’s most enduring synth-rock band, Depeche Mode’s Martin Gore has recently had to share songwriting duties with frontman Dave Gahan, which perhaps explains why the 53-year-old has now revived his brief solo career for an eponymous second effort released under the guise of MG.
A completely different beast from that of his ’03 covers album Counterfeit, this belated follow-up is an entirely instrumental affair which retains the doom-laden vibes for which his “day job” band is renowned, while also exploring a cinematic sci-fi-tinged direction which recalls the soundtrack work of composers both classical (Angelo Badalementi, Vangelis) and contemporary (Clint Mansell and Trent Reznor).
Of course, having previously teamed up with former bandmate Vince Clarke for 2012 side project VCMG, Gore is no stranger to the art of the vocal-free LP. But unlike their one-off collaboration Ssss, MG feels more like a collection of sketches than a fully-formed record.
The industrial sound effects and ghostly choral melodies of foreboding opener “Pinking,” the Kraftwerk-esque “Europa Hymn” (the only song title here longer than one word) and the Blade Runner-inspired “Exalt” all showcase Gore’s ability to create a sense of claustrophobia. But like the majority of the album’s over-generous sixteen tracks, their loose, improvised feel leaves little lasting impression.
MG is far more engaging when Gore ventures beyond this template. “Elk” is the kind of dreamy yet quietly unnerving soundscape that could have appeared on Twin Peaks. Living up to its title, “Creeper” is a brilliantly sinister blend of electronic pings and bleeps, jittery basslines and throbbing synths, while the ambient techno of “Crowly” provides a welcome change of pace with its pulsing four-to-the-floor beats.
Depeche Mode fans may find MG a mildly diverting stopgap until the band’s next release, but despite the occasional spark of inspiration, it’s a record which appears to exist simply because Gore had to get it out of his system.
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