Review Summary: The end of the synthpop era, and man, what a way to go out
Depeche Mode started out as a synthpop boy band in the early 80's, with a collection of quasi-cheesy singles like 'Just Can't Get Enough' catapulting them onto the New Wave scene. This light and poppy aesthetic differs greatly from the Depeche Mode that made the seminal album "Violator." Largely regarded as their greatest triumph, it is absolutely arresting. A cross between mainstream pop music and something sinister, it helped them to achieve worldwide popularity and success. All nine songs are creative tracks that stand on their own, and while they all share a similar brooding feel, they are each unique and addicting in their own respective rights.
Everyone knows 'Personal Jesus' and 'Enjoy the Silence.' The former's bluesy guitar chords and Dave Gahan's snaky baritone ("Reach out, touch faith") made it an instant hit and one that has been covered multiple times since its release (though it's best not to talk about most of those). The latter is an odd yet effective romantic/danceable mix with orchestral synths and a sinister guitar lead. They're two of my favorite songs of all time and are definitely album standouts. But many people, unfortunately, give the rest of the tracks the cold shoulder and don't focus on the melancholic beauty each of them have to offer. Just when you think the next song on the album can't possibly be yet another killer, you're proven wrong...and it's so much fun to listen to this album for the first time, without really knowing what you're in store for.
The subtle electronics are the perfect complement to Dave Gahan's vocals. He manages to be robotic and mechanical, while simultaneously sounding so compelling and humanly. Depeche Mode bounce back and forth from industrial to gothic without ever fully crossing the border into either genre, hence why it's become so popular amongst several groups of music fans. Credit must be given to Martin Gore, the principal songwriter and lyricist for the majority of Depeche Mode's discography, whose twisted mind has been able to create something gloomy yet beautiful at the same time.
"Violator" is everything synthpop should strive to be: dark, ambitious, and brilliant. Rarely is a pop album so creative and full of so much substance. Drawing on the synthesizer-tinged pop advances of the 80's but entirely shedding the production values of that decade in favor for a more modern, distinctly 90's sound, "Violator" drags the genre kicking and screaming into a new era of relevance. It's the twilight of an old age and the dawn of a new age.