Review Summary: Violator set a new benchmark in its genre. Dark and unique enough to be classed as alternative, yet full of sharp pop sensibilities and perceptive enough to reach a larger audience. Seriously one of the best albums, ever.
Sometimes an album comes along and changes things forever. When Depeche Mode's seventh studio album arrived in 1990 (a whole 3 years after the colossal 'Music for the Masses') it certainly changed things. It set a new benchmark in electronic pop music - a benchmark that not only critics and fans recognised, but also an impressive number of the moody quartets contemporaries. Take ‘The Pet Shop Boys' Neil Tennant for example, who admitted during an interview: "We were listening to Violator by Depeche Mode, which was a very good album and we were deeply jealous of it" and bandmate Chris Lowe agreeing, "They had raised the stakes". Its just one of many instances that goes to show the impact this release had.
Even with its 20 year old age, it still manages to capture the attention of a diverse range of listeners around the globe. Consider the aching beauty of 'Enjoy the Silence' or the mega-hit 'Personal Jesus'. The sheer amount of times these songs have been covered, remixed and/or referenced as an influence by artists as diverse and polar-opposite as 'Shakira' and 'Marylyn Manson', is clearly testament to the almost unrivalled quality and the ability to connect and strike an emotional cord with listeners, that 'Violator' possesses.
'Violator' is album without any fat on its bones, just lean muscle. It's a relatively short experience at only 9 tracks and 47 minutes long but that’s part of what makes it so satisfying. Depeche Mode's biggest hit, 'Personal Jesus' displays this perfectly featuring a simple guitar riff, minimalist plunges of synth and a repetitive vocal hook, "Reach out and touch faith". Its concise and sharp containing no unnecessary weight or clutter, and that’s precisely what makes such a refreshing and compelling experience. 'Enjoy the Silence' is just as perfect, with a gorgeous melody and strikingly simple yet incredibly touching lyrics.
The entire album deploys this quality; flawlessly firing out deep and sophisticated moody electronic songs one after another. Each track delivers exactly what it intends - 'World in My Eyes' sets out to entice and enrapture with seductive vocals from Gahan and does exactly that boasting an infectiously funky beat, subtle rises and falls in tone and astute lyrics. 'Sweetest Perfection' meanwhile, attempts a dark poetry on the effects of drug addiction and that too does an equally stellar job in delivering its intention, with emotionally harrowing lyrics like "When I need a drug in me, it brings out the thug in me" and spine-tingling synth scrapes floating behind Gore's fragile vocals.
That's the point of the album - the key to its success. Wherever you look on the album you'll find precise and considered dark songs that just work on every level and achieve all the right emotional responses from the listener they demand. 'Violator' is intelligent - knowing when to take a break and how to flow from one track to another, with atmospheric, gentler moments like 'Waiting for the Night' appearing after sprawling, intense tracks like 'Halo'; much in the same way 'Blue Dress' brings about a welcomed change of pace after the sprightly 'Policy of Truth'.
Its so easy to understand why 'Violator' set the benchmark in the electronic music world - Its simple, precision engineered dark pop. The result of a band as talented and challenging of itself as Depeche Mode, continually pushing its music and ideas into new fields of sound. Flawlessly executed, its a mature, elegant, majestic, dark, compelling and wholly satisfying album that raised the stakes in its genre. Featuring two of the best songs of its generation ('Personal Jesus' and 'Enjoy the Silence'), nary a millisecond where it doesn’t compel, and a place on 'Rolling Stones' list of the '500 greatest albums of all time' it should be obvious that its essential listening. In a word, stunning.