Martin Gore: MG (Mute)
Martin Gore is not an artist who lacks any ability or outlet to express himself. He’s been working as the primary songwriter (and, prior to 2000 or so, the sole writer) and lyricist for Depeche Mode since Vince Clarke’s departure after their 1980 debut, and he recently collaborated with Clarke for the first time in as much time had passed since then with their VCMG minimal techno release a couple years ago. He’s also released more than one collection of covers, but MG is his first solo album of original material. I approached MG with great curiosity, being a longtime DM fan and also enjoying VCMG plenty. MG is different from his work in Depeche Mode, if only by virtue of being entirely instrumental. So in this sense it shares more in common with his VCMG output, all instrumental and heavy on synthesis experiments and sound design. However, it ends there, with most of MG keen on exploring territory distant from the dancefloor. There’s also something retro-nostalgic about it, feeling like it could score a 70s space odyssey with its sometimes unadorned synth sounds and sense of space.
Such is the case with “Elk,” an elegant and brightly scored moment that stands apart in its prettiness, but it also applies to “Creeper,” a darker but no less spacious track, something that would probably feel right at home over footage from Solaris or 2001 (but maybe with a healthy dose of vintage John Carpenter). There are more rhythmic tracks, like the languid groove of “Stealth” or the straight-up techno-EDM hybrid of “Crowly,” but by and large this is Gore’s seized opportunity to let his creations take him where they will. It’s refreshing to hear him unburdened by the need to write songs, able to explore other territory and indulge his own singular instincts, although fans of his primary project will likely not find much of what they love about Depeche Mode here.
It’s best appreciated as its own type of animal, with tracks like “Hum” or “Southerly” which can really soar when unencumbered by expectations. It’s not the most groundbreaking thing I’ve heard, but considering his storied career and massive repertoire as a songwriter, it’s nice to hear Martin Gore reaching beyond the DM brand to pursue something on his own terms.