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Dave Gahan

Paper Monsters (Mute/Reprise)

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Remember when Depeche Mode was the king of concise synth-rock, safe for wedding receptions in the suburbs ("Personal Jesus") and in gothic batcaves ("Strangelove")?

Apparently, neither does Dave Gahan, whose first solo record after 22 years as Depeche Mode's vocalist seduces listeners with meandering minimalism. His chilly rushes of electronica, barely-there beats, and stern strings often sound like sonic wallpaper -- particularly on the ebb and flow of love songs "Hold On" and "Stay," and the quickened heartbeats on "I Need You." Like the similarly styled DM albums Exciter and Ultra, however, Monsters tends to become burdened by the grandiosity -- and plodding hooks -- of its extended electropop. In fact, Gahan sounds best when he unleashes down-and-dirty Dave and tarnishes this elegance with some brisk grit. "Bottle Living" is a bluesy honky-tonk down at the ex-addict corral, "Dirty Sticky Floors" wriggles with heavy-breathing electric guitar, and the Cure doppelgänger "Hidden Houses" packs some welcome oomph into its anguished choruses. Otherwise, this Monster is pretty tame.

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