Review Summary: For Tomorrow: A Guide to Contemporary British Music, 1988-2013 (Part 1.5)
If you had to split the musical corniness of the 80s two ways you’d be left with hair metal and synth-pop. A decade of over indulgent finger tapping backed by octagon shaped drum pad whacking with some preening haircut handling the microphone is both what makes the 80s so lovable and loathsome. Despite all the effort they put into crafty their moody, dark imagine during the 90s, it only takes a cursory scan of the lyrics to their breakout 1981 hit “Just Can’t Get Enough” (“Just like a rainbow/You know you set me free”) to remember that during the 80s Depeche Mode were as corny as the Thompson Twins.
Released on March 19th, 1990, Violator
, like 1980’s Remain in Light
before it and 2000’s Kid A
after it, was the sound the new decade deserved. From the first seconds of “World in My Eyes” Violator
just sounds exciting and new. Depeche Mode shed their 80s cheese for a new visage that’s as sleek and alluring as tinted windows on a Jaguar. There are textures and tones that have obvious prelude in Depeche Mode’s 80’s work, primarily their 1988 effort Music for the Masses
, but they’ve never congealed with such a tangible feel
like they do on Violator
Behind these upgrades in cohesion is just Depeche Mode doing what Depeche Mode had always done best, pairing the perfect vocal hook with the perfect melodic hook. The synth blips of “World in My Eyes” and “Policy of Truth” or guitar riffs on “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy the Silence” don’t just complement the vocal melodies but are equally as addictive. Martin Gore, the band’s principal songwriter and backup vocalist, is wise enough to know David Gahn’s overpoweringly alluring croon outpaces his thin warble and lets him handle everything but the shimmering, disturbing “Blue Dress”. Alan Wilder is quietly the second most important member working here. Not simply another keyboardist, Wilder was responsible for fleshing Gore’s demos into the pulsing, towering epics they become on record. Wilder’s arrangement lend “Waiting for the Night” an ever encroaching tension rather than a boring plateau once all the pieces are in place. He’s why “Enjoy the Silence” is a stone masterpiece and not a meh piano ballad.
holds one of the most bulletproof run of singles in pop music, not just in their selection but ordering too. “Personal Jesus” was the perfect choice of a lead single, an alluring head snap of a song that still commands attention long after graduating to radio standard. From the moment the first “Reach out, touch faith” comes zooming out of “Sweetest Perfection”’s void to suddenly twisting into its own remix during the extended coda, Violator
’s runaway success was all but guaranteed. “Enjoy the Silence” is still a triumph of restraint, only lending you that beautiful chorus (still the best Gore’s ever written) a scant four times making instant replays downright necessary. Even after that one-two you still get the shady thrust of “Policy of Truth” and the darkly inviting “World in My Eyes”.
Singles aside, Violator
’s deep cuts are more than worthy of their surroundings and, if not topping the big tunes, do an effective job at setting them up. “Waiting for the Night” weaves a thick tapestry out of the ARP 2600 synthesizer sequence, creating a lush sonic environment as suggestive as the moon’s glow falling over an amber city as the lyrics themselves. “Halo”, Violator
’s best album cut, sports a stellar verse melody and clever programing, with the measuring ending bass hits suddenly booming with a Cathedral reverb and a devastating piano key struck at just the right time. On album closer “Clean”, which is very much a finale in the “grand” sense, Gahn, as far from the inticing character he was on “World in My Eyes”, sings covered in the ashes of burned bridges and . “I’ve broken my fall put an end to it all, I’ve changed my routine. Now I’m clean.”
was massively influential and a huge seller immediately upon release. It turned Gahn into an alt-sex symbol and broke Depeche Mode into lifetime arena status just about everywhere in the world. Only a few years after its release, Nine Inch Nails, who shared a producer with Depeche Mode in Flood, released one of the first essential expansions on the sound pioneered on Violator
with The Downward Spiral
which ended up becoming the album Violator
’s influence would be filtered through. That same year Depeche Mode released Songs of Faith and Devotion
, a follow-up so safe its first and second singles “I Feel You” and “Walking in My Shoes” lift from the “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy the Silence” blueprint down to the moody Anton Corbijn videos. When Nine Inch Nails’ relevance overtook theirs Depeche Mode tried to industrial things up with 1997’s Ultra
with predictably lame results. It took until 2006 for Canadian duo Junior Boys to release the closest you’ll ever get to a worthy Violator II
with So This is Goodbye
. Depeche Mode’s abilities may have vanished in a sea of excess (though, in fairness, Exciter
and Playing the Angel
have their moments) but Violator
remains factory sealed fresh. Even though its DNA can be found in almost any band that features a keyboardist, Violator
’s nine songs remain as intoxicating and deceptive as fine wine.