Review Summary: "Godfathers of techno" go...um...rock (?)
So. Violator has been released to great critical acclaim around the world. No.2 on the UK album charts. Riots at an in-store signing in L.A. 'Personal Jesus' becomes the biggest selling 12" in Warner Bros. history. 'Brit' award scooped for 'Enjoy The Silence'. What goes up must come down, right? Well...
To be fair, it wasn't really planned. When the members of DM regrouped in Madrid in 1992, they were more than a little surprised at the changes in their frontman. Gahan was now a skinny, taut, incredibly intense figure, covered in tattoos, an addict, ("He looked like he'd been living in L.A. for a year" - Alan Wilder) and buzzing with ideas for the band's new direction. Dave had become interested in the new grunge scene sweeping the U.S. and was influenced by the likes of Jane's Addiction and Nirvana. He was ready to issue an ultimatum to Gore. Fortunately, the demos Gore submitted were just what Gahan was craving for; bluesy, riff-based numbers that begged for a singer with the right kind of passion.
Songs Of Faith And Devotion is the stand-out, the odd blip in Depeche Mode's repertoire of albums. Synthesisers are pushed to the back, becoming bubbling bass-lines rather than carrying tunes or developing into catchy riffs. Nowhere is this more obvious than on the first track and also the first single, 'I Feel You'. Containing a devastatingly contagious yet simple guitar riff, it's a big, muscular bruise of a song that begs to be played at full volume. 'Walking In My Shoes' is catchier still, less aggressive that its predecessor, yet still carrying a touching melody, haunting e-bow guitar and effective counter-melodies; truly one of the most vulnerable, desolate tracks by the group.
And then...gospel! Just when you thought the album couldn't be any more of a departure, 'Condemnation' sees the lads throw in a church organ and a choir (actually, though backing singers are used on this album for the first time in the Mode's history, this track is harmonised by DM themselves). It doesn't quite work, but full marks for effort; especially Dave Gahan, who delivers the best vocals of his career on this track.
After this impressive triptych, the album is basically hit-and-miss. 'Mercy In You' starts and finishes well, but is anonymous for the most part. 'Judas' is unlike anything Depeche have done before or since, the floating chorus of "...if you want my love..." staying in the listener's mind long after the track is over. 'In Your Room' is an exercise in passionate drum beats, contorted guitar chords and heartfelt, despairing lyrics. The intensity grows like a rising flame; this is a classic Mode track and remains the true highlight of the album. 'Get Right With Me' sees the backing gospel singers in full force, yet the track is the most forgettable on the album. 'Rush' takes a leaf out of Nine Inch Nails's book, featuring a pacy, messed-up electro effect pulsing throughout the verses, but it feels like it just missed the mark. 'One Caress', however, the token ballad, manages to upstage all but the greatest of Gore-sung compositions. With real strings, ominous lyrics and a beautiful melody, it's a superb backdrop for Gore's token high and plaintive vocals about wanting girls to lead him into darkness (again).
'Higher Love' ends the album on a powerful, passionate note, and sees the return of electronic elements to the lead melody. And not before time. Despite the successes of this album, most fans of the group are relieved that they didn't take this little bit of experimentation too far. Songs Of Faith And Devotion is definitely the odd one out in DM's back catalogue (not counting Speak And Spell), but this is not necessarily a bad thing. Ultimately, it's one of the most passionate, spiritual and moving Depeche Mode albums of all (it was No.1 on the UK and US album charts), and contains some of the all-time classic tracks. However, electro purists should look elsewhere.
Ugh. DM snobs need to stop hating on this album just because *gasp* they used natural instruments. The songwriting here is just as strong as their previous work. I much prefer a drum set over preprogrammed "beats" anyday, and to be frank, the drums on here are so processed they sound like electronics anyways. And I like the more riff/guitar-oriented songs as well... "I Feel You" is orgasmic, especially when the choral swells hit on the chorus parts, "Condemnation" has one of Gahan's top vocal tracks ever, and the album just flows nicely... great review though.
Well, I'm not a snob like those people, they did it well, I'm just a great believer in the old adage 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it'. They've experimented a lot in recent years, but to me, they'll always be an electronic band at heartThis Message Edited On 07.19.07
Well..how can anyone follow-up Violator? The only answer is SOFAD. It's nearly a complete departure but in some ways expands on the Blues element evidenced in 'Personal Jesus'. This is Electro-Gospel-Blues-Rock and more. I love this album. It touches the hem of Violator's garment but it's true greatness for sure. The emotion and pain Gahan shares is embarrasingly revealing of his state, beautifully honest, and gut-wrenching. The yearning in his voice is paired so well with the song themes. They are taking their experimentation to the next level as well. Their blending of these genres sounds natural..and that's not an easy accomplishment. 'Judas' is incredibly original. The lyric 'suffer some misery if you want my love' is alluring. It's clear on SOFAD that DM were cracking from the pressure, demand, lifestyle-both individually and as a band. To me it's that tension that makes this album remarkable. It's both a landmark and the end of a chapter.
hmm after reading about this, i feel like i should get it. however, i've never had a DM album, so is there another that i should get first? i like aphex twin & the knife, so anything similar to (or, if it's that good, completely different from) them would be nice
Hi bab808, just signed myself up to a profile so I could reply to you, seeing as no-one else has...
This is one of my very favourite albums, and I would personally heartily recommend you get it - though I couldn't particularly describe it as sounding like anyone else for comparison purposes! I remember really liking I Feel You when it first came out in early 1993 when I was 13, and used to enjoy listening to it on a 'Now That's What I Call Music' compilation from that year, particularly the middle bit with the lines "I feel you / Your rising sun / My kingdom comes" (just before the music drops out completely to leave only the drums for the next few moments), which I found amazingly powerful. It wasn't until four years alter when I became a fan, though, after hearing the great first singles off next album 'Ultra' (which could so easily have never been made, such were the trials in the interim), Barrel Of A Gun and It's No Good. I got that album then, finally swayed by its moody, sweeping third single Home, and when I went to university that September I remembered how much I'd liked I Feel You and picked up 'Songs Of Faith And Devotion' on a freshers' fayre second-hand music stall.
'SoFaD' and its predecessor 'Violator' are for me the two most essential Depeche Mode albums so I'd say it's advisable to start with those although they're surrounded by other very good ones - it should be said, though, that 'SoFaD' is kind of the black sheep of the family, as discussed in the very good review above, since its use of 'rock' sounds put off the more electro-purist fans, so it's not what you'd call representative as such and in some quarters it's often seemed fashionable to bash it as an aberration. I'd pick it as my favourite, though, with just ten songs, all of them very good and several being classics: first three tracks and singles I Feel You, Walking In My Shoes and Condemnation, that extraordinary floating chorus of Judas, the angelic, erotic One Caress, the hymnal power of Higher Love and, most of all, the phenomenal, charged, ascending agony/ecstasy of In Your Room, which really needs turning up much louder than its hushed beginning would seem to suggest.
'Violator' is the undisputed world-conquering classic and a must-buy too, which culminated the late-'80s DM era of dark electronics with the likes of Personal Jesus (which introduced guitar very successfully) and Enjoy The Silence on it, and is even more fat-free at just 9 songs; the album tracks Halo, Blue Dress and the exquisite, delicate Waiting For The Night are also among the finest Mode songs. It's altogether a much 'purer' electronica album, but the last track Clean does hint strongly towards the direction 'Songs Of Faith And Devotion' was to take.
The two previous studio albums 'Black Celebration' (personal highlight the Martin Gore-sung A Question Of Lust) and 'Music For The Masses' (featuring the thunderous Never Let Me Down Again) are also highly-regarded, though maybe best experienced if you decide you like 'SoFaD' and/or 'Violator' first - and the period from the former right up to 'Ultra' is all covered by the great 'Singles 86>98' compilation if you want a primer of what is arguably the band's peak period. One small caveat is that the Butch Vig single remix of In Your Room included sounds nothing like the album version and is not a fraction as powerful (although it still charted at UK No.9), but that's a small quibble in what is a very consistent set.
Hope that's of some use, anyway! Apologies for multi-posting, but thought I'd throw all my thoughts in for comparison purposes...
'Singles 81-85', covering the band's first four albums, is also well worth a listen although it documents what was often a very different-sounding group, with all the early 'tinkly-bonk' singles like the classic Just Can't Get Enough, made in the Vince Clarke era (before he went off to form Yazoo and later Erasure) or not long after, which may be an acquired taste if one is more used to the later material. There's still some great stuff in there, just wildly differing stylistically with a martial, self-explanatory Master And Servant up against the capitalist-bashing Everything Counts, a scuzzy Shake The Disease counterbalanced by the gorgeous, ethereal Somebody - the latter next to its polar-opposite double A-side, the dark-humoured magnificence of Blasphemous Rumours.
There's been three studio albums this century, too, which - as is the way with most long-established acts this far into their careers - have each garnered a random mixture of delighted praise, quick dismissal and "well, it's better than their last one" from the critics. I like all of them, although I have to say 2001's 'Exciter' hasn't had a spin in a long time - though it does have the great single I Feel Loved (memorably described in one review as a "fantastic crunchy piledriver" of a song), the big, dumb, glam The Dead Of Night (a song apparently as tongue-in-cheek as the album title), and a generally softer, more organic tone exemplified by Freelove, I Am You and lovely closing lullaby Goodnight Lovers. 2005's 'Playing The Angel' is a combination of 'classic Mode', especially its unimpeachable lead-off single Precious, with material reminiscent of lead singer David Gahan's belated solo career, and includes the raucous call-and-response of John The Revelator, which wouldn't have sounded out of place of 'Songs Of Faith And Devotion'. And last year's 'Sounds Of The Universe' is great, a real grower and probably the strongest of the three; it's best as an hour-long suite of songs, but standouts include the thumping, repetitive rush of lead single Wrong, which sounds almost like the archetypal DM song and to me is an instant classic, and the unexpectedly heavenly uplift of Peace, which sounds like Kraftwerk and features a brilliant Gahan/Gore duet vocal.
Oops, that was a rather more in-depth overview than I intended it to be when I started typing - but oh well, I hope it's of some use to a Mode novice or three coming across this page. Let us know what you decide to go for if anything!
I've never understood why people refer to this album as the band's "rock album", it may not be as electronic as Violator or Masses but its not exactly G'nR is it? To me its just a great album, beautifully dark and spiritual songs and the most passionate they have ever sounded before or since. For me personally, Songs Of Faith & Devotion is both Depeche Mode's darkest and finest record.
the album is almost perfect, except for one song, which is get right with me, while condamnation is a genious combination between gospel and electronic rock, get right with me isnt, because the start of the song tells me that is a heavy industrial but when the song moves forward into that gospel thing, the song becomes an horrible thing, my favourite tracks are: walking in my shoes, judas, in your room, rush and higher love