Just Can't Get Enough - Uncut (2001)

The most comprehensive article on the band's 20 year career.

Part 2 of 2

When the Mode reconvened in Madrid in March 1992 to record the sequel to violator, the shit finally hit the fan. By setting up a makeshift studio in an opulent villa outside the city, the four members hoped the energy of living together would generate creative chemistry. In reality, after a year apart, the isolated location only magnified the widening gulf between them.

"Dave had changed, Fletch nods. "We hadn't seen him for eight or nine months. Heíd grown his hair long and he was talking about those bands we hadn't really heard of."

Inspired by the emergent grunge scene, Gahan pushed for a more gritty feel to songs of faith and devotion. "I was determined that we should be trying to do new things and be something we weren't," he says, "and not become this stereotypical band who puts out the same stuff all the time. I was pushing to be heavier, to give us a rockier feel. I wanted to combine both things and I didn't feel like that had been done properly yet. There were a few bands at the time, like Nine Inch Nails and Nitzer Ebb, with that harder and bluesier edge. I wanted to RARRRRRK!!! And to be honest, I kind of got my own way."

For the first time in Mode history, tracks on songs of faith and devotion evolved via studio jam sessions. Then Alan Wilder and producer flood would tackle the "screwdriver" work. But Gahan's passion for hard rock was more than merely cosmetic. He was living the self-destructive myth to the hilt.

"Dave was taking a lot of heroin at the time," says Gore, "which took me awhile to realize. I'm not a drug expert, I don't know all the symptoms. But he was disappearing into his room all the time - we wouldn't see him sometimes for three days. And at the same time, I felt totally distanced from the rest of the band, I really didn't want to be there. Up until that point we always felt like a gang - then suddenly it felt really wrong for the first time."

The three-month Madrid sessions proved disastrous. The band scarcely communicated or socialized together. Gore became withdrawn, boozed heavily and spent days playing sonic the hedgehog. Gahan retreated to his own room to paint, play guitar and shoot up. Meanwhile, relations between Fletch and Wilder collapsed, highlighting fault lines in the warped democracy of Depeche Mode which would eventually split the band completely.

"Alan didn't really get on with Andy," Gore explains. "Weíve always been honest about the fact that Andy's not really musical - when we play live we give him parts to play, but it's not exactly taxing. And Alan around that time was heavily involved with what made Depeche Mode, in production and arrangement. I think he felt it was wrong that he was making the same money as Andy, who basically doesn't do anything in the studio."

After a few weeks, Daniel Miller arrived to check on progress. "It was such a bad vibe," he recalls. "Nothing was happening, nobody was communicating. Alan was off playing drums with headphones on. Fletch was reading the paper. Flood was trying to get some sound without anyone really helping him. The engineer had his feet up on the desk and was half-asleep. It was like, what the fuck? This is the beginning of an album, it should be a really exciting time."

Although Miller was generally shielded from the band's drug use, Gahan's ravaged state was too obvious to miss. "He used to do this great impression of a rock casualty," Miller sighs, "but he fell into the character. It was very hard to communicate with him. Dave is one of the funniest people I know, but he completely lost his sense of humour and his ability to laugh at himself."

Gahan admits, "I could no longer poke fun at it because I'd look in the mirror and that was me. Yeah, I did lose my sense of humour. Drugs will do that to you. Theyíre not very funny. You lose your sense of anything."

Even Gahan's closest ally in Depeche Mode, Alan Wilder, became exasperated with the singer. During a rare group night out in a Madrid bar, Wilder witnessed Gahan start a "totally unprovoked" fight with a gang of hell's angels.

"From what I recall," Wilder remembers, "Dave took offence at being 'looked at' and made it known in the strongest possible terms to the largest and grisliest looking of the bunch. Flood, Daryl and I just looked at each other with a collective 'oh fuck, he we go...' as all the angels left the bar. It was fairly obvious what was coming. Sure enough, as soon as we stepped out of the door when the bar closed, we were attacked. I think Dave, Daryl and Martin came off worst although the caliber of our defense was difficult for me to gauge, being a born coward, I hung back and remained miraculously unscathed, apart from suffering acute embarrassment. As the old adage goes, 'you can take the boy out of Basildon but...'"

Wilder says Gahan's increasingly erratic, macho behaviour became an "added pressure" in an already quite tense group relationship. A distance formed which I found sad considering what an enthusiastic and vital person her really is. Dave also has a very generous, open nature but therein lies the problem maybe - and yes, of course everybody tried to help him in their own way, but I don't think any of us had a clue how to go about it."

Gahan's new mood was partly rooted in insecurity about his role in Depeche Mode, and impatience with the band's defiantly non-rock image. "I wanted to give us a real leader, a real front person," he says. "I didn't think we had any character to what we were doing. I thought that Martin wrote some great songs, but we went about it in a very nerdy way, and it wasn't really me."

But for all the friction it caused, the singer 's new hard-rock agenda also catalyzed a new chapter in the band's sound. The surging electro-gospel anthem "condemnation", for example, would become an instant Mode classic.

"That was the one song where I really sang my heart out," Gahan nods, "I really felt connected to something. It still totally moves me. It was almost touching on what I wanted to do, but I didn't have the energy or I wasn't there enough to really follow it through. It was really Alan and flood sitting there at the desk."

After a healing break, the album sessions relocated to Hamburg. These, Alan Wilder recalls, were far more productive. "By the time we started the Hamburg sessions in an altogether more suitable studio, we had remembered that less people hanging around equaled more work done. Fletch went back to England and booked himself back into the priory, Dave only really showed up to do his vocals, and that left myself, flood and Martin - who perked up a bit - to get on and knock the album into shape."

Gore was still binge drinking in Hamburg, at one point reportedly sinking 67 beers in a single 11-hour marathon. But temporarily, at least, he manages to smooth over his friction with Wilder. With Fletch out of the way, Wilder loosened up and socialized with Gore.

Finally completed on New Year's eve 1992, songs of faith and devotion began its rise to million-selling success by topping the UK charts in March 1993. It became a landmark Depeche Mode album even though Gahan, Gore and Daniel Miller have all since branded the final mix a flawed dilution of their original intent, forged from shattered friendships and wracked emotions, these songs of hate and implosion almost finished the band for good.

"There was a struggle on that album - all of a sudden, after all those years together, we were becoming very separate individually," says Gahan. "The hardest job of all was probably for flood, pulling it all together. I think that album virtually destroyed him, too. Heís worked with nick cave and U2 and everyone, but he said to me afterwards that the darkest album he's ever worked on was songs of faith and devotion. Itís amazing that we managed to pull through all that. I think there's something about Depeche Mode that's much bigger than any of us individually. Itís like some mafia that we created for ourselves."

The Mode survived their darkest album to date. That which did not kill them had left them stronger, or so they believed. But the monstrously excessive tour which followed would push them to the brink of total breakdown.

During the first quarter of 1993, the Mode frantically cleared the decks for their biggest ever world tour - a potentially ruinous 156 dates over 15 months. Despite deepening depressions, Fletch married his long-term girlfriend Grainne on 16 January. Dave, meanwhile was pumping himself up physically with a marathon circuit training , and spent 10 hours acquiring a new winged tattoo for the tour. Neither of these rituals would protect himself from the chemical chaos ahead.

With a traveling staff of 120 people, including both a drug dealer and a psychiatrist, Gahan described the devotional tour as "like taking a mental asylum on the road". Given that it included heart-attacks, alcoholic seizures, overdoses, sinister vampire fantasies and rumoured backstage orgies, the devotional tour has inevitably assumed legend status.

"Most of the stories have an element of truth about them," Wilder admits. "Everyone was indulging with destructive results, but that's all part of the private way you deal with such a bizarre and unreal world. When I look back, it seems incredible that we paid an on-the-road psychiatrist $4,000 per week to listen to our ramblings - something I think I instigated. The idea was that he could provide some kind of support for those people who wanted it - although the real reason was to try to persuade Dave to come off smack because we weren't confident that he was going to make it to the end of the tour. Ironically, I think everybody went to see the shrink at some point apart from Dave, who was far too wise to the scheme."

Reporters who witnessed the tour returned with stories of superhuman sex and drug binges. Of roadies who would "pick out the 15 or 20 most beautiful girls in the crowd, evidently for the Mode's pleasure." Of Dave Gahan thronged by "drug barons" and groupies in "fishnets and stockings, incapable of even putting their lipstick on straight". Of "porn-themed" VIP areas awash with half-naked beauties. Other insiders hinted at stranger antics still, of S&M harnesses and hotel mini-bars deployed in novel but possibly illegal ways. Much of it rumour and speculation, of course.

"Everything turns into myth," sighs Martin Gore. "It never was an orgy, it wasn't completely out of control all the time. We wouldn't have survived it if it really had taken on the epic proportions that everybody speaks about..." really? Thatís a shame. "That also gives me a get-out," laughs Martin.

Alan Wilder agrees that "the myth that has been building up around the devotional tour now seems to be fully out of control. In actual fact, it wasn't really any more 'rock'n'roll' than other Depeche Mode tours over the years - everyone had their own little 'on tour' world which existed alongside a professionally run live show. It was just longer than the others and has been subsequently better documented. The well-oiled machine meant that, quite often, our paths wouldn't even cross, apart from the two hours on stage."

Gore recalls, "there were different levels of debauchery for all the different members of the band. I really don't think I was particularly bad during the devotional tour, I think I was worse on the world violation tour. That was the end of the acid times, there was a lot of ecstasy still flying around. But by the time of the devotional tour I couldn't cope with that - mentally more than physically. I had to choose my moments."

For Fletch, too, the devotional tour only magnified his existing problems. "It was horrible," he says. "Things spiraling out of control, the excess got worse and worse. All of us had quite big personal problems for a long time because of that tour. There were a lot of drugs doing the rounds. It was very debauched, but I wasn't so much into that. I had my own problems, which made it 10 times worse."

Support bands had a hard time on the tour. Spiritualized were sent for an early bath after a handful of dates. Then Mute label mates Miranda Sex Garden were pelted with rotten meat and dogshit during their warm up set. Despite this, they bonded with the Mode and violinist Hephzibah Sessa would later become Alan Wilder's long-term girlfriend.

By now, Dave Gahan was in full-on moppet Michael Hutchence mode, prowling a giant futuristic stage set conceived by Anton Corbijn, the singer became consumed by his crotch-grabbing, techno-grunge messiah caricature. But backstage he would hide from his fellow band members in a private party room adorned with candles and rugs. Communications soon collapsed.

"It was different limos, different hotel floors," sighs Daniel Miller. "I don't think anyone spoke t o Dave the whole tour. They saw Dave on stage and Dave went off into his dressing room and his candles and everything. Alan wasn't really talking to Martin and Fletch. Obviously, it was very sad in some ways. But if you saw the funny side, the ridiculous side, it was spinal tap, too."

Gore says, "Dave and Alan had their own separate limos. Me and Andy always traveled in the same car." He also argues that separate hotel floors were a practical necessity in case individual band members threw raucous parties - like the Berlin after show, which ended with a police raid and a permanent ban from the intercontinental hotel.

In Mannheim, Gahan stage dived into an ocean of grabbing hands of fans and was almost torn from limb to limb. The singer would later blame these crowd-surfing antics for the ever-increasing number of scars on his forearms. At the crystal palace show in London on July 31, where the Mode played to 30,000 people, NME's Gavin Martin noted Gahan's wracked state: "his skin is sickly grey, his eyes sunk into bluish sockets. The insides of his long skinny arms are all bruised and scratched."

Band relations were now at crisis point. Gahan was branded "the cunt" by his fellow Mode members. Meetings would end in fisticuffs. A late-summer hiatus gave the quartet a cooling-off period while they prepared a live concert video and promo shoot for "condemnation", directed by Anton Corbijn. But when the tour's initial North American leg opened in Canada on September 8, the madness began anew with the arrest and his old Basildon buddy Daryl Bamonte following a hotel fracas. The singer had punched the concierge in the mouth during a power cut, and spent the night behind bars.

As the Mode progressed across the US, their hedonism took several dark turns. On October 8, in New Orleans, Gahan was stretchered away to hospital after his mid-show heart-attack."I was told by the doctor that maybe I should continue the rest of the tour on a stool," Dave nods, "as my heart probably wouldn't take it. I looked at my manager and said 'I can't do that!' so we just cancelled the next show, I got one day off, and then just carried on."

The tragicomic excess of the devotional tour escalated, with three-day parties punctuated by scarifying flights which left band members praying for their lives. In late November, in an ominous portent of Gahan's later problems at the same venue, Gore collapsed at the sunset marquis hotel in Hollywood.

"I didn't eat anything that day," he recalls. "We were shooting a video a couple of days before that happened and I went straight from the video shoot into a bar and started drinking. Then I went onto a club, met some guy who gave me some stuff, so I was up all night till probably 9 or 10 in the morning. We had a band meeting at 12 o'clock and I managed to get sleep for about an hour. Then I got up and I've never felt so dreadful in my life. I managed to literally crawl to this meeting. I had to lay on the floor just saying 'yes" or 'no', that was all I could muster. At some point, I tried to get up and went into convulsions caused by alcohol and drug withdrawal."

Gore recognized the symptoms. "That wasn't the first time," he confesses. "It happened two weeks previously, but I didn't know because I was on my own. I suddenly woke up and couldn't remember where I was... it was a real warning to me."

A month later, Gore was arrested a fined in a Denver hotel for disturbing the peace at a drunken hotel party. The tour then moved onto Asia and Australia and beyond. In south Africa, Alan Wilder was hospitalized with kidney stones. Meanwhile, Fletch's behaviour became increasingly erratic.

Approached by an autograph hunter in Johannesburg sports bar, he replied, "did you call me a cunt, mate?" After learning that a shooting involving the same group of people had occurred there just the night before, the band were hurriedly smuggled out the back door.

Soon afterwards, a severely depressed Fletch quit the devotional tour, flew home, checked into hospital and swore to never play with Alan Wilder again. He was replaced by Gahan's touring buddy, Daryl Bamonte after a week of coaching from Wilder.

While the Mode thundered through South America, word came of Kurt Cobain's suicide. "I was pissed off," Gahan later admitted. "I felt like he'd stolen my idea."

With hindsight, the Mode admit that their final 1994 lap of America with primal scream was probably a mistake. Gahan pushed for the Primals as support: "I wanted us to swing like that, to be that loose." Fletch was in hospital at this point, but had serious fear for his colleagues.

"I wasn't in favour of doing a second American leg," he says. "I think it was probably bad news for the Primals more than Depeche. I don't even think they realized the state that everyone was in at that point. I think they were shocked. The length of the tour was a mistake - after the violator period we thought we were kings, we thought we could tackle anything. And unfortunately, we couldn't."

Primals keyboard player Martin Duffy remembers the shows as "monotonous" and "soul destroying", playing to arenas full of indifferent Mode fans munching on take-out pizzas. Duffy claims, "I think we did more positive work for Depeche Mode than we did for primal scream. We got the band back together. They weren't speaking to each other before we went on the tour."

At one of the June Primals shows, at Jones Beach, long island, a deeply intoxicated Dave Gahan bit British reporter Andrew Perry on the back of the neck. Perry was backstage in primal screams party room, were he spotted the single "shoveling coke up his nose". Gahan burbled away at Perry, then chomped his neck, vowed to "put a curse" on him, and stormed out.

"I remember reading about it afterwards but I don't really remember doing it," Gahan laughs. "I think I had some strange fascination at the time with vampires. In all seriousness, I was really starting to move to this place where I really believed what I was creating. I definitely could have been a vampire, in my own head. Even the bed that I slept in in Los Angeles was in the shape of a coffin - a huge double bed shaped like a coffin! ha, ha! My whole life was spinal tap at that time...2

On the tour's last night, at Deer Park music centre in Indianapolis on July 8, Gahan took another near-fatal dive into the crowd. He plunged 12 feet, smashed his shoulder against a row of seats, and was stretchered off to hospital. It took a day for him to sober up and realize he had two cracked ribs. By now an emaciated junkie, he checked out and disappeared with wife Teresa to a cabin near Lake Tahoe in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The singer was alive - but only just.

The devotional tour ended with all of the Mode in emotional shreds, in a chemical haze, or in hospital. Within months, the band would disintegrate and Dave Gahan would come close to full-on annihilation. Incredibly, their darkest hour was yet to come.

The months following the devotional meltdown should have been a time for healing, but instead they threw up fresh break-ups and breakdowns. In late August, Martin Gore married his Texan girlfriend Suzanne Boisvert. Dave Gahan, who had jammed with primal scream at the reading festival that evening, arrived at the wedding party with several scream members in tow. Then he slipped away , back to his LA twilight.

Alan Wilder split from his wife and set off on holiday with Hephzibah Sessa. On September 1, the couple witnessed a shockingly macabre incident near the placid shores on loch earn in central Scotland. As they admired the view, an RAF tornado smashed into the ground barely 200 yards away, showering Wilder's open-topped car with debris.

"It was the surreal quality of the event that I remember the most," Wilder says. "The things that struck me was that such an instantaneous tragedy is followed by the banality of continuing life. As two dead airmen were splattered against the road, the sun shone, the birds sang and no music played. Things were strangely silent afterwards, which was in stark contrast to the noise made by the plane seconds earlier as it shot over our heads. These moments are still very vivid, even now."

Wilder, whose anxiety about flying had been tested to destruction on the devotional tour, would later immortalize the incident in "black box", a track on last year's lavish recoil album liquid. Although active since 1986, recoil would become Wilder's main musical outlet after he quit Depeche Mode. The momentous decision was finally announced in June 1995. His press statement blamed, "increasing dissatisfaction with the internal relations and working practices within the group."

Gore cites Wilder's tension with Fletch as key to his decision. But Wilder claims this was "largely immaterial since it made no impact on the important issues like how the records were made or how they were performed. The relationship that never really flourished was between myself and Martin. I felt that it was mainly he who didn't really value the effort I put in, and that disappointed me, because generally we got on OK and I respected his talent as a songwriter. I guess the introverted side of Martin's nature made it difficult for him to show appreciation or hand out praise. That said, it's not something that I dwell on. Life is too short to bear grudges and so I have no problems with any members of the group."

As Depeche Mode disintegrated, Dave Gahan surrendered to a full-scale heroin addiction in LA. He tried detoxing several times since late 1994, but always relapsed. He set aside a closet in his Hollywood home, christened the blue room, where he could shoot up in numbed isolation. His relationship with Teresa Conway reached breaking point, and they separated. In a state of wasted paranoia, Dave took to carrying guns. He would even shoot up water purely for the instant buzz, and once woke in the front garden of a dealer who had literally robbed the shirt off his back. Next week, he went back there to score again.

It happened a lot more times than I actually though," says Gahan of overdosing. "Sometimes I would come to and it was two days later, that kind of thing. People start dying, you know - but I never thought that would happen to me. It was very classic drug addict stuff."

One night, during a visit from his mother and son jack, Gahan passed out from another overdose. On waking and discovering that his works had been thrown away, the singer frantically scrambled through his bins. He then locked himself away and shot up. His mother and son burst into the bathroom and found Gahan on the floor. At first he lied, claiming that he was injecting steroids for his voice. Eventually he looked his mother in the eye and admitted, "mum, I'm a junkie." She replied, "I know, love."

August 1995 was a low point for Gahan. He returned from the Arizona detox centre to find his housed had been methodically burgled. The alarm code was reset, prompting that his drug buddies were teaching him a lesson. Dave put the house up for sale, rented out a new place in Santa Monica, then checked himself into the sunset marquis hotel. Strung out on smack and Valium, he phoned his mother in Britain. In the middle of the call he went to the bathroom, carved two inch razor cuts into his wrists, and wrapped a towel around the gushing wounds.

"I don't think I was trying to kill myself," says Gahan today. "I think I was just crying out for some kind of attention and really going about it in an odd way. It was a mistake. It was feelings of wanting to disappear - still be here, but just floating around."

By the time a friend dropped by, noticed Gahan's seeping wounds and dialed 911, the singer was virtually comatose. With no time for anaesthetic, the paramedics stitched up his wrists in the ambulance. He came to next morning in a straight jacket in a psychiatric ward. "I thought I might be in heaven," Dave later admitted. "This psychiatrist informed me I'd committed a crime under local law by trying to take my own life. Only in fucking LA, huh?"

Gahan returned to using drugs almost immediately after being discharged. Meanwhile, in London, Gore and Fletch were hesitantly making steps towards the Mode's first post-Alan Wilder album. Bomb the Bass beatmaster Tim Simenon was drafted in as producer, alongside several session musicians, to fill Wilder's studio shoes. Simenon introduced a fluid, trip-hop dynamism to the Depeche sound as epitomized by the malevolent, sabre-toothed groove of "barrel of a gun".

After initial doubts about the band's future, Gore and Fletch were heartened by the sessions. They called Gahan in New York where he was now involved with a new girlfriend, a reformed drug-user who he met in a detox program. All three agreed to record Dave's vocals at Manhattan's electric lady studio in April and may of 1996.

But the sessions proved catastrophic. Gahan claimed he was drug-free, but could barely muster a single usable vocal. In mid-may, recording was scrapped and Dave flew back to LA. Humiliated and desperate, the singer's self-esteem was in shreds. His job was on the line, his band mates were insisting he get a vocal coach, and Teresa was suing him for divorce. On top of which, his drug habit was killing him.

"Martin actually rang me up when I went back home to LA, after all the trouble," says Gahan. "He said, 'shall we just knock it on the head?' I said, 'mart, this is just not so important to me right now.' it just wasn't relevant to where I was."

Gahan was in a bad way. He began seeing vocal coach Evelyn Halus, then tried recording again in LA with Tim Simenon. But his drug use was out of control. In the early hours of may 28, back at the sunset marquis, he overdosed on a cocaine and heroin "speedball" made with a particularly lethal strain of heroin named red rum. Gazing blankly into his dealer's eyes, Dave suddenly "had a strong feeling that everything I was doing was very wrong. I remember having a feeling of it was maybe too late - give me another chance. I remember looking right in the eyes of the guy who was with me at the time and I thought: 'oh fuck, I've really done it this time.' and basically wanting to live. I really had a string feeling that I wanted to live."

A girl who Gahan has just met at the hotel bar was also present. But the dealer, fearing arrest, prevented her from calling an ambulance while he cleared up and fled. By the time the medics arrived, Dave had turned blue and gone into cardiac arrest. He was given the "pulp fiction treatment" as his heart stopped on the way to the hospital.

Discharged the next morning, Gahan was immediately arrested by the west Hollywood sheriff's department for possession of controlled substances found in his home. He was jailed with seven other offenders until manager Jonathan Kessler posted $10,000 bail. Outside, the singer gave a rambling public confession: "my cat's lives are out... it's not a cool thing to be a drug addict." He also apologized to his mum.

Then, incredibly, Gahan went back to the sunset marquis and instantly started using again. Friends who dropped by, including the former the word presenter Amanda de Cadenet, felt sure the singer had a death wish. "I wouldn't have been surprised if I got a phone call saying he was dead," nods Fletch. "Various people had tried to speak to him, but it became past that. I think that when he got to his lowest level, the only thing he had left was the band."

Martin Gore agrees. "I don't know what else we would have done. I remember something somebody said about going to LA and babysitting him, but it wouldn't have worked because Dave was just being really sneaky at that stage. If I'd moved in with him that would have probably sent him over the edge anyway."

In the end, a few days after his overdose, Gahan was finally persuaded to check into the Exodus Recovery Centre in Marina Del Ray - a rehab clinic whose former clients include Kurt Cobain and James Caan. the grueling Exodus regime included five days of cold turkey, during which Dave was strapped down as seizures wracked his body. But it worked.

"I made a decision to give it a shot," Gahan nods. "I took some advice from people for the first time, not just with the band but with my personal life. I actually started listening to people who were telling me that I couldn't do this anymore. And thank god. There is a different way. I knew it was going to be a struggle. I knew it was going to be the hardest thing I ever did in my life."

Daniel Miller says Gahan also had serious practical motives to kick drugs. "The American legal system said he wouldn't get a green card or be allowed back into the country unless we went into rehab and had tests over a period of two years," Miller says. "In the end, his desire first of all to not be chucked out on America and his understanding of what he was doing to himself kind of forced the issue.2

Under constant surveillance from alcoholics anonymous and narcotics anonymous counselors, Dave regained his voice and finally completed the ultra album sessions. After a legally enforced spell at a "sober living house" in LA full of fellow ex-addicts, he moved to a giant Central Park apartment in New York.

Ultra was released to high expectations in April 1997, rocketing to number one in Britain and scoring three million sales globally. Its windswept amalgam of pneumatic hip-hop and gothic soul expanded the Mode sound, although Daniel Miller now calls it a transitional record: "the sound of a band picking up the pieces, trying to figure out where it's going."

During promotional interviews, Gahan was in full-on confessional therapy Mode, revisiting his dreggy traumas in lurid detail. It made great copy, but Gahan now says "I regret talking about it a lot, actually. I went around telling everyone, whether they wanted to listen or not. Itís that feeling that you're the only person that's ever been through this, that's how it always came across. Sometimes, I came from those interviews feeling, like, worse."

Fletch agrees, "I know it makes interesting reading, but it was a terrible part of all our lives. Itís not something that was done for publicity. The thing is now, touch wood, we do seem to have come through. I honestly believe we're all better people. Heaven knows how we got ourselves into that situation, but the important thing is we do seem to have bounced back."

Nowadays, both Gahan and Gore get their natural highs from running several mornings a week. And Dave takes care to avoid old friends with bad habits. "Most of my friends that I hang out with in NY are people who are choosing to not drink or use drugs anymore," he nods. "And most of them are way more creative that the people who I thought were creative, who I was hanging around with. When you're doing drugs, you sit around and talk about being creative, but you don't do fuck all."

Does Dave still see his former party posse? "naaah!" He laughs. "I don't know where they fucking are" they all disappeared after I started taking drugs."

Daniel Miller remembers very clearly the day he signed Depeche Mode to mute. It was, after all, only last year. After nearly two decades of living in sin, the two long-term partners finally tied the knot legally.

Miller calls the contract a "technicality" undertaken purely to suit the band's internal business structure. And while Mute have relied heavily on the Mode in the past to carry them through lean years, he no longer feels dependent on them.

"When we did this contract," he says, "I think they vaguely looked around to see what else might be on offer. Whether or not they were actually ever seriously going to go, I don't know. Weíre so embroiled with each other."

All on the cusp of 40, Depeche Mode have now been famous for half their lives. They have sold upwards of 50 million records since debuting in 1981 with "dreaming of me". These days, you don't need to look very far for their musical legacy: Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Smashing Pumpkins, Garbage, Marilyn Manson - even U2 and Prodigy - have all had their Mode moments. Not bad for a band once derided as a fisher price Kraftwerk.

All three surviving members now have wives, children and business interests outside the band - and all could afford to spend the rest of their lives browsing around garden centres, should they wish.

Today, the mood of the Mode camp is up after three years of reconciliation and recovery. In 1998, they embarked on their first drug-free tour, a stripped down affair promoting their second hits album, singles 1986-98. Gahan took his addiction counselor on the road, and nothing stronger than wine was allowed backstage. The shows were generally well received, a lean and muted throwback to the band's pop roots.

Gore moved to Southern California with his wife last year. It was there that most of the Exciter sessions took place. With Mark Bell's encouragement, Gahan was largely left alone in the studio to complete his tracks - which perhaps explains why they are his most emotive, expansive vocals to date.

"I definitely feel like I'm more right in there with is," Gahan nods, "and really contributing something that I'm proud of. There were periods before where I felt a bit outside, like I've got these ideas but no one wants to hear them anyway so why even bother? Which was stupid. I felt undervalued but it wasn't like I was saying I had more to contribute. I was going about it the wrong way - once again, I was trying to get attention and be noticed.Ē

It may be significant that all three Mode members now live thousands of miles apart. But Fletch insists that the internal friction which made previous recordings so traumatic has been settled.

"We did have a chat together at the start of the album," he says, "and any problems that we had with each other, we sorted out. Which is one of the reasons the recording for this album was so successful. Even if you can't hear it on the record, we can say that we really had a good time. I must say I didn't think a few years ago that I'd ever be able to say that."

But where the original new town neurotics be without their frictions, feuds and insecurities? Donít worry, says Fletch, they haven't gone completely. "We still argue," Fletch acknowledges. "We still have those tensions. Itís not like this brilliant, perfect existence. Martin is one of my top three, top four friends. Dave I'd consider a brother, it's like a family relationship. I don't have to be Dave's best friend to be in a band with him."

"Tensions have been in the band since day one," confirms Daniel Miller. "Itís part of the thing that makes Depeche Mode what they are. I can't imagine that some of those things will ever sort themselves out. The real mates in the band are Martin and Fletch, historically. And Vince as well, they all knew each other. Dave was brought in late. The others had grown up together and known each other as kids. Itís Bas you see - different parts of Bas."

And so it all comes back to Basildon. To school days and teenage gangs and the bruising brutality of growing up in a strange town. You can take the boys out of Essex, but you can't quite take the Essex out of the boys.

"Things haven't changed a lot," shrugs Martin Gore, still huddled on the designer couch of a Notting Hill studio. "I got attacked in the street the other day just out here, just a 10-second walk from Portobello road. Over nothing, like when I was 17. Two guys came along, 5 o'clock in the evening; I was just walking along with this American journalist. One of them just said, 'what are you fucking looking at?' then he came up and kicked me."

Poor Martin. That kind of bullshit must have dogged you all your life.

"No," he says wistfully, "those are the only two times it has ever happened.

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