Even when Gore begins to sound like Gore, we are just far enough away to miss Depeche Mode.
Martin L. Gore is an accomplished musician who has sold over 100 million records in various projects, most notably, of course, as a founding member and the primary songwriter for Depeche Mode. While that band is known for its pioneering brand of electronic rock, Gore has also proven versatile at the guitar, the instrument that first brought him into the music industry. He is also got some singing chops, contributing vocals to a minority of Depeche Mode songs and to his own solo work. This makes Gore’s most recent solo release, MG, all the more perplexing. The music has not only eschewed live instruments entirely (going for an all-electronic sound) but is also completely devoid of any lyrics on any of the 16 tracks. This may not come as a huge surprise to many fans of Gore’s music, as he has always stayed close to electronica. However, while most definitely “electronic,” MG is not at all what one could consider “dance music.”
Instead, Gore’s latest release sounds more akin to the soundtrack to a somewhat dark and desolate film from the 1980s. Gore rose to fame during that decade, yes, but this album certainly doesn’t sound like Depeche Mode either. This is not to say that Gore has given fans a bad album. There is a lot of skill to be heard here and tracks like “Islet” make excellent use of modern stereo technology. The notes seem to chase each other across the surround soundscape from speaker to speaker. However the novelty of “Islet” wears off when the music fails to really go anywhere. “Crowly” sounds, perhaps, the most like Depeche Mode, and the listener can imagine the voice of Gore’s bandmate Dave Gahan supported by the columns of sound here. This also stands to highlight what’s really missing from MG. Even when Gore begins to sound like Gore, we are just far enough away to miss Depeche Mode.
Then again, after 38 years in the music industry, why shouldn’t Gore experiment? He’s distancing himself from both Depeche Mode and his other solo work with MG, which is not credited to his given name but simply to his initials. Therefore, perhaps direct comparisons are somewhat unfair. When one closes the eyes and just listens to Gore’s compositions without prejudice, the experience can be fascinating. With layered ambient sounds, New Age elements and electronic driving bass, the music can turn on a dime from sparse to rich. But these varied sounds can clash, such as on the track “Trysting.” However, Gore uses this misfit audio to his advantage and reconciles the opposites, slowly at first, into a colorful tapestry of sound. In sequence after sequence, the listener can almost see the images of the unmade movie from which these songs could have formed the soundtrack.
The problem with MG is that it doesn’t quite have the depth to sustain 16 full tracks of very similar music. Much of what Gore attempts here is not really new. “Spiral” sounds a lot like the electronic introduction to the Who’s “Baba O’Riley.” Other tracks sound like they could have contributed to Pink Floyd’s latest (and also mostly instrumental) album The Endless River, if they were a bit more complex. Still others seem to be in competition with John Carpenter’s Lost Themes album, which also gives the feel of a dark soundtrack to a movie that never was.
Gore is certainly experimenting here under the MG moniker. In most cases the experiment is a success. Gore has created another interesting blend of music in a genre that is not exactly his stomping ground. That said, something is missing from MG. There is a feeling of incompleteness here. It’s hard to imagine playing this album repeatedly on drives or inviting friends over to experience it with you. On the other hand, it is perfect music to soothe oneself to sleep, and those who avidly collect and listen to musical scores might find a lot to love in MG.