Hourglass, Dave Gahan's second solo outing, is crammed to the gallery with sweeping keyboard grandeur, majestic rhythms and hymns to the lowlife. Ten superb slices of cutting-edge electronica, dosed liberally with a guitar sound straight from the 1980s; the album slithers around outsider influences on a trip from Bowie's Berlin decadence, via David Sylvian's Japan, to the sordid back alleyways of Marc Almond's Soho.
There's also a tip of the hat to Happy Mondays here, a touch of The Verve there, but Gahan's unmistakeable writhing performance and the album's solidly 21st Century production means it packs far more punch than a mere rehash of old themes ever could.
As his most romantic ballads descend into threats of sexual assault ("Deeper And Deeper", "Use You"), Gahan takes us on a tour of the darker side of the city at night. Covering the emotional gamut from tearful regret to sated melancholy - at times with more reverb than strictly necessary - Dave's voice is the album's strongest, most memorable facet; the perfect vehicle with which to acknowledge one's sins, invoke divine protection and beseech forgiveness. Gahan's control and masterful delivery show that years of the rock star lifestyle left no lasting damage: if anything, the slight rasp of maturity lends an air of authentic experience that his work with Depeche Mode only hinted at. When he permits the polished professional croon to slip to one side, his Basildon roots show; and that creates a genuine, exciting danger that his more purist electro-based rivals can't match. More than just a Scott Walker for the nightclub generation, nobody does overindulged weariness like our Dave. --Al Spicer
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