Review: Dave Gahan & Soulsavers, ‘Imposters’ – An Intimate Albeit Mellow Album of All Cover Songs

Dave-Gahan

There was a virtual smorgasbord of music released yesterday, November 19th, 2021. Enough music to keep your intrepid blogger and bourbon enthusiast busy through Christmas. I may need to buy my own barrel of whiskey to get through the holidays… but that has more to do with relatives than music… While there is plenty to be happy about from yesterday I was set on a course to explore Depeche Mode frontman Dave Gahan and his partners the Soulsavers’ new album Imposter. I haven’t seen this record get a ton of attention, so enter B&V. There will be plenty of time for me to “catch up” and write about those other new LPs.

As long time readers know, it was the Rock Chick who turned me onto Depeche Mode. I have to admit, before meeting her I only knew the song “Personal Jesus” and I’m embarrassed to admit that I only knew that from the black and white video. When that song came out in 1989 I was in exile in Arkansas and only got new music from gads, MTV. That’s probably the only reason I’d heard the song. Depeche Mode’s dark synth rock wasn’t getting a ton of airplay in Northwest Arkansas. You were more likely to hear Micheal Jackson or Madonna on one hand and Foghat or Bad Company on the other. Not that there was anything wrong with Foghat or Bad Co. It was pop or classic rock in Fayetteville, Arkansas with nothing new and current on the rock n roll radio station. Had I stayed there I’d have certainly missed the whole Grunge thing.

When I met the Rock Chick she’d just gotten out of a relationship with a guy who was musically barren. He didn’t go to concerts or own any CDs. When I met someone in the old days I didn’t judge them by what they did or what they stood for, I judged them on their music collection. The first thing I did when a woman invited me to her place was look at her CD rack. When I came along it was like the Rock Chick had this musical awakening. Don’t get me wrong, she was already the Rock Chick, I just sort of helped her re-engage. It was on one of our first dates that I realized I could take her to the record store and we could browse and buy in the same way my old friend Drew and I used to do in college. A record store, with a chick? Oh, yes, sign me up. That first trip to the music store the Rock Chick bought a stack of CDs. She was collecting them in her arms like she’d just escaped from a gulag. They should have charged her by the pound vs the disc. We rocked out on that music purchased over the course of a few hours for years and years.

While she bought a bunch of CDs that ended up helping me reconnect with bands I’d drifted away from – Motley Crue, AC/DC, and Green Day just to name a few – one of the main purchases she made that day was Depeche Mode’s double-disc retrospective greatest hits The Singles 86-98. I had no history with that band. I remember thinking, “Oh, it’s the “Personal Jesus” guy.” I was, as usual, curious about their music but she rarely played that CD. She used to insist you had to be in the “right mood” for Depeche. I assumed that like olives, they were an acquired taste. I tried to put them on during her ritualistic “Saturday House Cleaning” – the Rock Chick is nothing if not organized – and she came sprinting down the stairs to make me change the music.

Eventually, and I might have been alone at the time, I started listening to those two discs and I was blown away. What a great band and I had been utterly unaware of them. Eventually I picked up their best known record Violator. At that point I was hooked. One of the main things that drew me in, besides the songwriting by (mostly) Martin Gore was the towering voice of Dave Gahan. Hypnotic and seductive it was that voice that made me a Depeche fan. Over the years I’d notice their albums started to appear at the house. Over the years the Rock Chick brought home Playing The Angel, Sounds Of the Universe and finally Delta Machine which I really connected with. Delta Machine was the first overt connection I heard in their music to the blues. And, as is well documented in these pages, everything I like leads me to the blues eventually.

It was in 2015 that I first heard a Dave Gahan solo song. I had no idea Gahan had a solo career. My ignorance was not blissful. Anyway, I heard this song “Shine” and I really dug it. There was a gospel vibe on the thing. I found out it was from an album named Angels And Ghosts, that Dave recorded with collaborators the Soulsavers, multi-instrumentalists Ian Glover and Rich Machin. At the time they’d already done an LP together but it was more Gahan grafting his vocals over their already written tracks. Angels And Ghosts was a real triumph and a true collaboration between Gahan and the Soulsavers. I went back and listened to the whole thing this week and thought, I need to listen to this album a lot more than I do. “My Sun” is a classic track.

While it stands out on its own right, I will fully admit that Gahan solo LP made me even more excited for that next Depeche album. In 2017 they put out what can only be described as a late-career masterpiece, Spirit. That album is an absolute classic. Musically and lyrically it was a tour de force. I was lucky enough to see them twice on that tour in both Denver and then in Tulsa. Although admittedly, the Tulsa show was like going to a Goth rave at an LGBTQ bar in the basement of a church. It almost felt subversive to be there… It was over the course of those two concerts that I realized that Dave Gahan was simply one of the most charismatic frontmen in rock n’ roll. The guy doesn’t get the credit he deserves. He was like a hipster preying mantis grooving all over the stage.

It was a few weeks ago that I heard that Dave had teamed up with the Soulsavers again for an album of all covers, Imposter. I’m on record as a fan of “cover albums.” Many bands do covers songs but it’s rare that bands will do an entire LP of covers. Although admittedly, there has been a ton of cover LPs this year: The Black Keys, Chrissie Hynde, and Plant/Krauss to name a few. I read on line that Gahan was describing this as an intimate record where he tells his story using other people’s songs. Cover albums are like getting a two-fer… you get the artist whose singing them but there is a connection in the music to the original artist. I will admit, a covers LP is only as strong as the material chosen.

As has happened several times this year, I will admit up front that I like the last album from Gahan & the Soulsavers more than I do this one. At first listen this album is a bit monochromatic and could be considered slightly somnambulant. It doesn’t have the variety of sounds nor the upbeat moments that drove Angels and Ghosts. At first listen this is a really mellow record. Although the more I listened to it and the more time I spent with this week it did reveal its charms. Its a good record for that late night, sitting up with a tumbler of bourbon while doing some heavy contemplation. And let’s admit it right up front – Dave Gahan could sing the phone book and pull it off.

As with any album of covers songs I’m drawn to the material I’m familiar with. I had no knowledge of the first single, “Metal Heart” but its the most rocking moment you’ll find here and I really liked it. It’s a track by Cat Power who I’ve merely heard of, not heard. But as I explored the track list I did see some familiar tracks. My favorite, as would be expected is the Dylan cover, “Not Dark Yet.” There’s been a lot of great Dylan covers this album, from the aforementioned Chrissie Hynde album to David Bowie. I was familiar with the song “The Dark End of the Street” written by Chips Moman and Dan Penn from the version Gregg Allman did on Searching For Simplicity. I have to admit Gahan does it just as well as Gregg and that is high praise indeed. “A Man Needs A Maid” the Neil Young orchestral epic was a nice surprise. I really like this version. For reasons unclear Gahan chose to do the old Nat King Cole chestnut “Smile.” I despise that song no matter whose at the mic. The album ends on the Elvis track “Always On My Mind” and I admit, I liked it.

I really liked the track “Strange Religion” and somehow guessed it was a Mark Lanegan track. The Soulsavers have worked with him in the past and I just knew immediately that lyrically it had to be him. “Lilac Wine” was a miss for me… as any Eartha Kitt song would be. “I Held My Baby Last Night” an Elmore James blues tune is another great moment here. I like the opening salvo of guitar on that one and Gahan goes into a deep bluesy growl. “Shut Me Down” is another gauzy track that makes my mind drift a bit. It was nice to see a Gene Clark track here, “Where My Love Lies Asleep,” but again following “Shut Me Down” it makes for a pretty mellow back to back listen. PJ Harvey’s “The Desperate Kingdom of Love” sparks a bit of excitement toward the end of the album.

The listening experience for me, was bit of a start/stop experience. There’d be a track I’d really like and then a track that sort of sent my mind a’wandering. The thing that really holds it together is, as you’d expect, Gahan’s voice. This album really makes me want a Depeche album. I want to hear Dave singing Martin Gore tracks, not Nat King Cole. That said, I can’t completely dismiss this record. While I wouldn’t recommend it to anybody but true fans (like myself) there are enough high points that I think everyone should give it a spin or two, especially after the sun goes down.

Cheers! And Happy Thanksgiving folks.

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