Review Summary: Depeche Mode at the height of their powers - a dark, brooding masterpiece of swirling electronica and alternative stadium anthems
If an album is produced in 1989 and released in 1990, which decade is it from? If it features 80s style keyboards and 90s style guitars, is it electro or rock? If it’s dark yet uplifting, will it make you smile or cry? I’m glad to say that it is all of these things and more, and it makes me a happy man.
is Depeche Mode’s craft filtered, distilled and purified. The epic ambitions of the previous album (‘Music For The Masses’)
are gone. Instead, ominous guitar lines, beautifully moody vocals and crystal clear electronic effects all float gracefully over murky bass lines. Tempos rise, fall to the depths, and rise again, sometimes within the space of a single song. Themes vary from guilt, religion, sexual fetishes, nihilism, misanthropy and drugs. Anonymous interludes bind the songs together with elegance and subtlety. It’s darkly mysterious. Evocative. Muscular. Moody.
‘World In My Eyes’
opens up the void and is an excellent introduction to this finely-tuned blend of dancey pop music and something rather more shaded, reclusive and vicious. Its propulsive, electronic multi-rhythms, and darkly uplifting chorus referring to the bleakness of stark realism makes this a very dramatic song indeed, yet still one that you can dance to. ‘The Sweetest Perfection’
descends further into the mire with its tense, rhythmic verses chugging along with dirty, droning whirrs, while Gore’s high voice sails innocently overhead; some of his best lyrics ever feature here: “When I Need A Drug In Me/And It Brings Out The Thug In Me/Feel Something Tugging Me”
And then, it's time for the standard, ‘Personal Jesus’
, arguably DM’s most famous song. Underpinned by a stomping blues-riff, it remains a timeless classic, probably because it sounds so raw and primal. The original man in black himself, Johnny Cash, could hardly improve it, and Marylin Manson's effort simply beefed up the amps. Hugely anthemic, it uses the metaphor of tele-evangelism to warn of the unbalanced desire to have a ‘Personal Jesus’. This darkly euphoric trip is extended into ‘Halo’
, a shadowy, brooding masterpiece of pumping synths and pounding bass effects. If you ever want the definitive Depeche track, this is it - the supreme height of glorious, uplifting, sinister feeling. You’ll feel high and terrified at the same time. ‘Waiting For The Night’
brings you back down, with its beautiful, crystalline keyboards that twinkle like watery stars all over the track. It has an ambient, Tangerine Dream-feel to it, yet the whispered lyrics and soulful moaning at the end give it that same ominous atmosphere. Good music for a midnight walk through the trees.
But the night (and silence) is broken with the next track. Even if for some reason you haven’t heard the title ‘Enjoy The Silence’
before, you will have heard the song. It started off as a pretty ballad (until Alan Wilder had the bright idea of speeding it up into a dance track) and that wonderful, slightly melancholic feeling is carried over into this glorious final mix. Helped along by a slightly New Order-like guitar line and Kraftwerk-esque ‘pewt‘ sounds, it sounds dancey and fluid, and the lead melody is one of the strongest they’ve ever produced. Fading into the aforementioned silence, the song’s message about the unimportance of words next to feelings is placed right next to a song about the importance of lies
in protecting a relationship. ‘Policy Of Truth’
is another dance-floor filler, and has a great slide guitar-esque riff over a wistful melody line sang by Gahan and competently harmonised by Gore.
, the album’s 'pervy' song (there's always
one on every DM album), is the musical equivalent of a butterfly. It floats euphorically along, like a helium balloon about to escape, and Gore sings sweetly along about how much he likes a girl in a blue dress (with bizarre, warped sound effects and to waltz-time, no less). The album’s closer picks up where ‘The Sweetest Perfection’
left off, a bass-heavy churner called ‘Clean’
(ironic considering what would happen to Gahan next). It throbs along with electronic pulses and ominous, pounding drums, giving a slightly Pink Floyd-ian feel, with Gahan putting in his best vocal performance, sounding suitably morose and doubting. Lyrically, Gore interrupts Gahan’s half-hearted claims of being ,”The Cleanest I’ve Been”
by murmuring “...sometimes…”
in the bleakest manner possible. It’s a suitably grand, dramatic end to this dimly-lit album.
If there was ever an album that bridged two decades successfully in just nine songs, Violator
was it. Still Depeche Mode’s greatest work, it’s not just because of the number of excellent highpoints scattered casually all over; it’s also the absence of any real flaws or filler that makes it such an easy and compulsive listen from start to finish. The hit singles are all great to listen to as stand-alone tracks, but it works very well as a coherent album too. Sure, I could nitpick and say that maybe ‘Blue Dress’
is not as strong as the rest; that ‘Waiting For The Night’
goes on for too long, or the album approach is too electronic, or too dark. But I wouldn’t be being honest at all. Even hardened electro cynics (or even purists) who dislike the approach could find much to admire here. In fact, the one and only thing I could take issue with is a song title. ‘Enjoy The Silence’
? No way. Not while there’s a masterpiece like this to fall in love with.