‘Imposter’ finds Rich Machin’s ever-adaptable Soulsavers and Depeche Mode frontman Dave Gahan continuing the fruitful collaboration that has already yielded two acclaimed albums together – ‘The Light The Dead See’ in 2012 and ‘Angels & Ghosts’ in 2015. For their third album together, the focus is placed squarely on the songs and artists that have influenced Gahan and Machin instead of original material.
In our interview with Gahan, Gahan opened up about the imposter syndrome that has plagued him for years – either in Depeche Mode singing Martin Gore’s songs, or in comparing himself with other singers in the world of rock music that he has seemingly happily inhabited for the past forty years. If doubts exist, it’s hard to precisely identify them in the twelve songs here. Crucially, the key thing with ‘Imposter’ is that Gahan brings his own personality to these songs, irrespective of how familiar the original song might be. His reimagining of ‘Lilac Wine’, a song that Jeff Buckley made his own on ‘Grace’, is delivered with a haunting dreaminess, almost as if Gahan is singing while sifting through old pictures and memories. It takes a central place in the narrative arc that these songs formed, by accident, as he and Machin recorded the album together.
We also hear Gahan tackling Neil Young’s ‘A Man Needs A Maid’, imprinting deep-seated themes of dependency onto a normally ambiguity-filled song; in Gahan’s hands, the song takes on a harrowing fragility and unsettling contemplativeness, enhanced by Sean Reed’s lightness of touch at the piano. Elsewhere, the euphoric bluesy bluster that his collaborations with Machin always seem to elicit appears with full force on ‘I Held My Baby Last Night’, also covered by Fleetwood Mac, while the blistering distorted guitar that heralds a take on Cat Power’s ‘Metal Heart’ prompts the feisty, impassioned Gahan vocal that has become a staple quality in his work over the years.
Two covers in particular stand out – a version of Rowland S. Howard’s ‘Shut Me Down’, originally recorded for the former Birthday Party guitarist’s final album, and the overly familiar ‘Always On My Mind’.’Shut Me Down’ is a song filled with devastating reference points, a bittersweet song that Howard wrote while dying from terminal cancer that seems inseparable from his untimely death. In Gahan’s hands, he channels that sense of regret into wistfulness and muted euphoria, conjuring a twisted hopefulness out of the bleak wreckage of Howard’s song.
Meanwhile, ‘Always On My Mind’, a song so well-known, oft-covered and familiar that we rarely spend too long thinking about its message, is delivered with an unvarnished simplicity, in so doing exposing the vulnerabilities and imperfections of the song’s protagonist. It stands apart as a towering, accomplished, pivotal moment, and one that should eradicate any trace of the imposter syndrome that prompted this brilliant, brilliant album; an album that will become – in time – as significant and important to Gahan’s career as Johnny Cash’s ‘American’ series was to his enduring legacy.
Words: Mat Smith
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