As the lead vocalist for Depeche Mode, Dave Gahan appeared to be far removed from the common trappings of rock & roll stardom. Although the group often flirted with gloomy overtones throughout their career, they maintained a largely squeaky-clean image. By the early '90s, however, Gahan had moved to L.A., gotten hooked on heroin and booze, and immersed himself in the grunge scene. When Depeche Mode regrouped to record Songs of Faith & Devotion, Gahan had transformed himself into the perennial junkie. As his addictions worsened, Gahan lost his friends, lost himself, and for a few short minutes, lost his life before paramedics revived him after an all-night drug binge. Following Gahan's journey through both physical and mental rehabilitation, Paper Monsters is what many would expect -- a collection of material culled from his addictions, failed relationships, and spiritual rebirth. While the lyrics on Paper Monsters lack some of the depth and clever irony associated with those of bandmate Martin Gore, Gahan masters innuendo, often hiding the true identities of his subjects. As the titles suggest, "Dirty Sticky Floors" and "Bottle Living" are glam-induced snapshots of Gahan's days spent at rock-bottom. "Hold On" and "A Little Piece" each offer a glimpse into Gahan's reconciliations with a higher power, while "Bitter Apple," "Black and Blue Again," and "Goodbye" shed light on his relationships, both bad and good. On "I Need You" and "Hidden Houses," Gahan sounds as though he could be addressing all of his subjects at once. Additionally, "Hidden Houses" offers his most naked moment on the album: "Inside each man is a frightened lamb who hides beneath the sheets/Waiting for a chance to just be free." Having toyed with the idea of releasing a solo album ever since Depeche Mode released Exciter, Gahan approached the project slowly. Initially shy and even a bit scared, it wasn't until he began jamming with friend and multi-instrumentalist Knox Chandler that he gained the confidence he needed to get serious about releasing an album of his own material. They, along with producer Ken Thomas (Sigur Rós), began shaping Gahan's ideas into a mix of swampy blues-injected rock, slick urban electronica, and atmospheric balladry. Paper Monsters is a competent solo debut, and although it doesn't stray too far from the Depeche mold, Gahan does manage to put his own stamp on the songs. While it doesn't shy away from recalling his past demons, Paper Monsters ultimately points toward his optimism for the future.
AllMusic Review by Don Kline