Depeche Mode - Violator
Updated: May 1, 2021
The wind of change is blowing (possibly due to The Scorpions, possibly due to the CIA - check out the marvellous podcast by Patrick Radden Keefe).
Nelson Mandela has just been freed after 27 years behind bars; Poll tax riots rage in Brixton and Trafalgar Square; German reunification is progressing and a plan is agreed; Mikhail Gorbachov is elected as the first President of Russia; Russia announces plans to withdraw troops from Czechoslovakia; the singing revolution leads to an independent Lithuania…it’s an exciting if turbulent time.
Meanwhile, an electronic band from Basildon have reached the peak of their powers. They are about to release their seventh album, building on 10 years of incredible progression. They are simply huge in the States - Nostradamus would have thought that extremely unlikely on the basis of See You or The Meaning Of Love. But now they are stadium Gods. Their last album, the magnificent Music For The Masses was a master class in huge electronic songs, with a growing dash of guitar. Violator would allow songwriter Martin Gore to let his inner-guitar God loose at last.
Lead single Personal Jesus is a guitar rocking romper-stomper rockabilly goth classic. Mocking the rampantly self-serving US tele-evangelists of their new spiritual home, it’s simply huge. Mother O’B, Imelda, was already no fan (“I hate that De-peachy Modey”) - mocking Jesus did not sit well with her staunch Catholicism or improve her view of them. Strangely, she quite liked New Order who aren’t radically different - there’s no accounting for taste.
I digress. Over time, the band had established roles, but this time things changed - rather than working on Gore’s developed demos; Martin would write the initial sketches, with Fletch giving opinions as they progressed. Alan Wilder then worked closely with producer Flood on the soundscapes and textures of the songs. Gahan, not yet writing songs at this point himself, delivered the vocals, his strong, resonant mid-range baritone at its peak. They were a team, and it is probably the last time that the four of them could really claim that, given the ensuing troubles that followed Songs of Faith And Devotion. But at this point they are unstoppable.
Personal Jesus is followed by an even stronger single, Enjoy The Silence - a genuinely perfect pop song. Both have been covered multiple times and can adapt to completely different versions. Johnny Cash’s version of Personal Jesus is spectacular. Tori Amos’ Enjoy The Silence is probably closer to how Gore originally envisaged it, until Alan added the faster pulsating beat. Her take is a slow ballad - it’s beautiful, but I am glad DM went with the dance anthem…every time I have seen them, they have played this to rapturous crowds.
Violator followed and it was perfection. Not a duff track, and its packaging is iconic - red rose on black, goth-tastic. Policy of Truth and World In My Eyes continued the pace of the two lead singles. Policy’s parable style warning of where lies will get you, was accompanied by yet more guitar - this was not the Mode of old. World meanwhile is driving and urgent but also brooding, inviting some observer to witness their hedonism.
Gore leads on Sweetest Perfection, a more sophisticated ode to sex after previous efforts - this is far more subtle, mature, yet still somewhat sinister. Similarly, Halo is again a more restrained update on Master And Servant, alluding to sinful pleasures with far greater subtlety and style.
Blue Dress is Martin in full on pervy voyeur mode - “Put it on, please don't question why”. Closer Clean updates Pink Floyd’s One Of These Days from Meddle, providing Violator with a pulsating sense of redemption to finish.
My favourite track though is Waiting For The Night, almost a duet between Gahan and Gore, it's stately, simple, atmospheric, channelling Tangerine Dream - it's beautiful.
31 years on, the world is still turbulent, Russia looks more like its Iron Curtain days than the reform Gorbachov promised; the pandemic has turned the world upside down, but the album remains all killer, no filler and is loved by their fans. I asked members of the Depeche Mode Devotees FB group to sum up the album in one word - perfection dominates responses and I completely see why.
For me it’s forever associated with “gothing” up my wardrobe, acquiring a very cool leather biker jacket and super cool but hugely impractical suede pixie boots and getting ready to ditch work for three years and head off to Uni - I schlepped back to London in my first term to see them on this tour, and though I’ve seen them several times since, this was their greatest show. For me Violator just hasn't dated at all, but then again, that's possibly because I have dated!
For fans of: New Order, Gary Numan, David Bowie, Pet Shop Boys