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POP MUSIC : In a More Spiritual Mode : Depeche Mode, those heroes of the black-clad teen Angst set, broaden their outlook with 'Songs of Faith'

March 21, 1993|CHRIS WILLMAN | Chris Willman is a regular contributor to Calendar

Depeche Mode's most controversial moment came with the British group's 1984 hit "Blasphemous Rumours," an outrageously bleak narrative in which a young girl survives a suicide attempt and dedicates her life to Jesus, only to get knocked over by a car and placed on life support.

The moral, such as it was, came in the oft-quoted chorus: "I don't want to start any blasphemous rumours / But I think that God's got a sick sense of humour / And when I die / I expect to find Him laughing."

For a generation of black-clad, budding-agnostic teens--whose hysteria for the band has been especially pronounced in Los Angeles, where the group's last two local shows, in 1988 and '90, were at the Rose Bowl and Dodger Stadium--the venerated men of Mode make just dandy substitute deities, thank you.

So when the quartet puckishly titles its first album in three years "Songs of Faith and Devotion" (see review, Page 86), and even the few songs on the collection that don't have religiously inspired titles do have at least a sprinkling of popular spiritual imagery, you figure the lads are being sinister and clever and wickedly ironic, right?

Pray thee not be so hasty.

"I admit I have a problem," chief songwriter Martin Gore says with a slight chuckle, confronted with the overload of liturgical language in the new songs. He pauses, seeming genuinely introspective. "God knows why--no pun intended--but every time I write a song, I feel a need to touch on religion."

"Or sex," chimes in extrovert singer David Gahan.

"And often I tie that religion in with either love or sex," Gore continues, "because love and sex are things that I can grasp and believe in, and I've never been able to wholeheartedly follow any religion. So they're about as near as I get to understanding anything.

"But I have this inherent longing to want to believe in something. And if I was pushed--no, I don't even think I'd have to be pushed--I would say that I believe in God. And at the time of 'Blasphemous Rumours' maybe I didn't. And I think that comes out in the songs now."

The soft-spoken Gore, 31, says that the change of perspective has occurred over the last few years, and he traces much of it to fatherhood--he has a daughter who is 21 months old.

"Watching her life grow in front of you, you do start to question a lot more, and maybe start to accept things that you didn't accept before," he says, continuing his rare elaborative discourse. "But at the same time, it is all very vague. So I'm playing with things in my own head, because I want to understand more."

The recently remarried Gahan, 30, who gets to sing Gore's words, is happy to go along for the more positive ride.

"I definitely feel that there must be a bigger purpose to life. And it's really only the last couple of years that I started thinking about those types of things.

"I really just had one thing on my mind all the time, which was mostly doing things with Depeche Mode in terms of going out and meeting girls or whatever. And now I'm starting to feel I want to find some other things and look out a bit."

Despite their seemingly shared optimistic outlook on life about now, you could hardly find two more different people to put in a room together than Gore and Gahan.

Seated side by side in a Warner Bros. Records conference area in Burbank, they're a study in opposites: Gahan is a veritable puppy dog, almost too energetic to be contained by his chair, ready to ramble your head off on any subject that prompts his enthusiasm (and it's not hard to find one).

Gore, meanwhile, though not unfriendly, lets Gahan do most of the talking and looks as if he'd rather be doing anything but. While his partner discourses, Gore gazes longingly with watery eyes toward a distant window. When he does speak up, his words are carefully chosen.

Gahan is so upbeat that he can't even be riled by discussing the bad rap Depeche Mode has had over the years among a lot of American critics unwilling to forgive the group for its screaming, youthful following or its dreaded techno-pop origins.

"When we first came here in the early '80s, it was like we were the plague, or some kind of naughty act, like fire-eaters or something," Gahan notes. "But it's really changed a lot, and I think it's healthy. People are open to a lot more ideas, and don't feel like they have to see the Rolling Stones to define what rock 'n' roll is."

It's clear that Gore is the heart of the group, which also includes Alan Wilder, a production whiz who specializes in creating synthesized backdrops for Gore's songs, and Andrew Fletcher, who's said to concentrate mostly on keeping the band's business affairs in order these days but on occasion still sits behind a synth.

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