By: Eric Greenwood
As Depeche Mode's sole songwriter for over twenty years, Martin Gore has painted himself into a bleak corner. It's almost as though he's run out of ways to write about drugs or sex or death or betrayal. He released an EP of obscure covers back in 1989 called Counterfeit, which allowed him a brief reprieve from the constraints of writing for an internationally successful pop act. Now, fourteen years on, he's similarly burned out, and Counterfeit2 is a full-length album comprised of some of Gore's favorite songs. The arguable decline in his lyrical ability on recent Depeche Mode albums (Ultra, Exciter) may or may not be the impetus for his dependence on other people's songs here, but it's a welcome change, nonetheless.
If nothing else, Gore confirms that his musical ear is indeed in tune, as he displays exquisite musical taste. The music is typically and predictably similar to Depeche Mode's, relying on familiar ambient textures and soundscapes to support his surprisingly faithful renditions of songs by Brian Eno, Lou Reed, John Lennon, and Nick Cave. Gore's voice packs an emotional punch, and the few songs he actually allows himself to sing on Depeche Mode albums are always highlights. The mood of Counterfeit2 is unsurprisingly dour with minor chords, electronic glitches, and synth patterns any Depeche Mode fan will recognize instantly. Each song plods along at the same homogeneous pace with the only variable being the intensity of Gore's distinctly dramatic voice.
Counterfeit2 will certainly please rabid Depeche Mode fans, but casual listeners will have a hard time distinguishing how this is different from the norm, apart from the absence of Dave Gahan's grim baritone, of course. The beats are less propulsive than what you'll find on any Depeche Mode single, but Gore's penchant for gloomy atmospherics is still evident. One of the rare moments of surprise is his testosterone-charged interpretation of Nick Cave's "Loverman." Gore's forte is not seething fire and brimstone, but he manages to step up to the challenge, punching the depths of his voice where it counts. The version of John Lennon's "Oh My Love" actually sounds like a Depeche Mode original after Gore gets done with it because the hook lends itself so well to Gore's pure tenor.
The downside of Counterfeit2 is its uniformity. It's mood music for the disaffected youth, though, the teenagers that grew up on Depeche Mode in its heyday are probably now well into their late twenties. Besides the obvious modification of each track to fit into Gore's dreary musical wasteland, he really didn't alter the impact of the originals too much, which is nothing to fault necessarily, but he doesn't exactly step outside of his comfort zone. Gore is a tremendous singer with a powerful range and Counterfeit2 showcases his vocal chops, but the emotional range is somewhat stunted by the inherent distance between an artist and a song that is not his own.