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Depeche Mode’s new order

March 27, 2009 |  2:41 pm

Having handled challenges both internal and external, the veteran group stands strong with a new album and tour ready to go.

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For the overwhelming majority of Depeche Mode's storied three-decade ascension from disposable New Romantic heartthrobs to chart-topping rock stars who could fill stadiums, the division of labor between bandmates was never a question.

Dave Gahan was the group's focal point: its preening figurehead, a leather-clad baritone and unrepentant hedonist with a lust for life (well, women, drugs and booze) that famously killed him for a few minutes in 1996. Martin Gore, meanwhile, was the brains of the operation. From 1981 onward, the soft-spoken multi-instrumentalist took the reins as primary songwriter and is most responsible for casting Depeche Mode's sonic template of brooding synthesizer soundscapes and danceable industrial dissonance.

Until one day in 2005, at the outset of recording the British group's 11th studio album, "Playing the Angel," Gahan got fed up with the status quo. "I said, 'I contributed to everything you've done all these years. I want some back now,' " Gahan recalled, dragging on a cigarillo in a swanky hotel suite. "I said, 'Let's shake it up a bit. I'm going to bring in my stuff.' Martin said, 'Well . . . how many songs? How much?' OK, I get it. It was perceived as a threat."

Never mind that Gore's lyrics -- meditations on consumerist greed, sexual politicking and exasperated spirituality, among other existential howls from the void -- elevated Depeche Mode beyond its shiny, happy New Wave roots and helped the group be taken seriously by critics, not to mention sell more than 100 million albums worldwide.

In a separate suite on the other side of the hotel, Gore remembered his negotiation with Gahan somewhat differently.

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