Violator: Depeche Mode

I think, if you read Monday’s blog containing three album reviews and several mentions of a certain band from Basildon, Essex, then you’ll agree that this is a blog that very much needs to get out of my system.

Having been busy listening to, oh, I don’t know… Madonna at the time, I can only imagine the fuss made about Depeche Mode’s masterpiece, Violator, on release. Well, actually, that’s not true. I’ve listened to interviews, read the stories, seen the stats- I know how much fuss this album created in the aftermath of the Mode’s highly successful tour of north America- culminating in the huge Pasadena Rose Bowl gig captured in the film 101. In 1989, Depeche released a track called Personal Jesus to trail the new album- the 12″ sold in excess of one million copies, a Warner Brothers record. That track was subsequently covered, magnificently, by Johnny Cash. The day before the album’s release, the LAPD had to close down an instore signing session due to concerns over crowd safety- far too many people had shown up.

This fuss certainly seems to have helped the album,  it was the first Mode album to hit the American Billboard’s top 10, reaching number 7 and it stayed 74 weeks in that chart. Violator has since sold 4m copies in the US alone, with sales of 15m worldwide (correct as of 2010). Why has it been so successful? I hear you ask. My answer is that it’s an all killer-no filler, 47 minute slice of perfection. The only Depeche Mode album, in my opinion, that comes close to it for consistency is 1986’s Black Celebration. But the stand out tracks on Violator, well, almost every track could be said to be a stand out. As I said to Jo at the weekend, as we contemplated our favourite 10 Depeche tracks, I could quite easily have 8 of Violator’s 9 listed tracks in there. On reflection, the figure is more likely 7- but you get my point.

A Depeche trademark, for as long as you can go back, is to kick the album off with an absolute beast and World In My Eyes would stand up against any of Never Let Me Down Again, I Feel You, Barrel Of A Gun or 2009’s In Chains with ease. A magnificent, dancey opening to the album, Dave’s croon, “Let me take you on a trip, round the world and back” is both an invitation and a statement of intent. It also echoes the travel theme of the previous album’s Behind The Wheel. Little electronic bleeps give the track quite a housey feel.

The Martin Gore sung Sweetest Perfection takes things down a notch before a bell sounds and you’re invited to “Reeeeeachout and touch faith!” With a marvellous Martin Gore guitar line and a pounding beat, created by band members jumping on their flight cases, we’re in the land of Personal Jesuses. If one million sales aren’t enough for you, the fact that Johnny Cash covered this should be (although it isn’t for Jo). It’s ironic that Cash cover, in a way; Martin Gore once said that the songs lyrics were inspired by Priscilla Presley’s view of her late husband and the unhealthiness of that view. So, a song (indirectly) inspired by Elvis ends up being covered by the just as titanic Johnny Cash. I like that.

Coming straight after Personal Jesus, it would have been easy for Halo to slip by unnoticed and, for a few years I guess it did for me, but watching the band perform it on their 2001 tour, I came to realise that Halo deserved a bit more attention than it was getting. The same could almost be said of Waiting For The Night- a song with which Gahan and Gore closed the 2009 show I saw in Rome, backed only by a piano. That’s the genius of Gore’s songwriting for me; some of the studio trickery makes these songs sound great, but even stripped of all the bells and whistles, it can reduce a stadium to silence (for the most part). This song just sounds like the night. A real Depeche highlight.

Speaking of studio trickery, legend has it that in preparing the songs for the Violator album, Gore wrote a piano ballad called Enjoy the Silence. Legend also has it that Gore was slightly put out when Alan Wilder, in genius fashion, suggested that the track be sped up and turned into a dancier track. In Gore’s opinion this seemed to go against the very idea of the song. I think Martin Gore would be more than happy to concede, 21 years later, that he was wrong. Speaking on the short film that accompanied the Mode’s 86>98 Singles release, Dave Gahan said that “we just knew (that we had a hit single)… everything just flowed”. The video was a fine example of Anton Corbijn at his best, but I’ve already talked about that elsewhere, so won’t dwell on it here.

Policy of Truth keeps the dance vibe flowing and I’m sure people the world over can relate to lyrics such as “You had something to hide/ should have hidden it shouldn’t you” and “Never again is what you swore/ the time before”- not that it speaks to me about my life, you understand. The closest this album has to a weak track, Blue Dress (although I quite like the ideas in the lyrics) follows before Clean closes the album out in magnificent and, bearing in mind what was to come, ironic style- sample lyric “Clean, the cleanest I’ve been.” Really?  I can even forgive the fact that the song’s bass line clearly borrows from Pink Floyd’s track, One Of These Days (an unusual move for the band), because it sounds so fucking good!

Incidentally, that should be the tagline for the album. No, not the bit about Pink Floyd, the bit after…

Personal Jesus

Waiting For The Night- Live in Rome 2009 (I was there! Although not that close)

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3 Responses to Violator: Depeche Mode

  1. Valerio says:

    Can you tell me where you knew the band members jumped on flight cases during the Personal Jesus drums sampling? Cause Alan WIlder, in the Stripped and Black Celebration books, said just “three people” without who they were.


    • Thanks for the comment. I think I read the same thing as you and assumed, as it was a studio created recording and the only guys in the studio were the band members and Flood, that it was band members jumping on cases. I might be wrong, however.


      • Valerio says:

        Thanks. I did this question because I would to know if Andy Fletcher did something more on the Violator album, than the vocals on Interlude 2.
        We all know that Fletcher, in many DM albums, is musically almost absent.
        By the way, I did the same question to Alan Wilder writing via the Recoil’s official website.
        Anyway, thanks again for answering.


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