In the summer of 2017, I had the pleasure of attending a DEPECHE MODE concert during their Global Spirit Tour stop in Cluj-Napoca, Romania. The memories, emotions, and goosebumps of singing along with thousands of people to such songs as “Enjoy the Silence,” “Personal Jesus,” or “World in My Eyes” is something I will carry with me forever. And since the album that yielded these anthems, “Violator,” was released in 1990, it’s high time to revisit it and see what made it such an iconic release for DEPECHE MODE.
Approaching the songwriting for “Violator” in a more relaxed manner, as opposed to their prior releases (as on “Music for the Masses,” for example) led to the sound and general feel of this album to also be more relaxed and easy-going. This, in turn, translated into the success that “Violator” would end up having, becoming not only a fan-favorite but a critic-favorite as well, and a milestone in DEPECHE MODE’s extensive and vibrant discography. The band’s seventh studio album, “Violator,” was released internationally on 19 March 1990 through Mute Records and through Sire Records and Reprise Records in the United States. With both “Enjoy the Silence” and “Personal Jesus” entering the top 10 in the United States and the United Kingdom, “Violator” put DEPECHE MODE on the road to international stardom. The album itself peaked at number seven on Billboard 200 and on number two on the UK Albums Chart. This goes to show that stepping out of your comfort zone and doing things differently can lead to great results.
Showcasing perfectly that “less is more,” the nine songs on the album still appeal to the public not necessarily because they are simpler or more accessible, but because the core of DEPECHE MODE’s sound is more clearly brought into focus. Labeled as either synth-pop or alternative rock, the album has a very cohesive sound to it as the songs play well off of each other, creating a dynamic flow to the music and giving the album great playability. They went the minimalistic route with this record and the result is a very sleek and elegant collection of songs that combine pop sensibilities, ambient charm, and mischievous undertones (especially lyric-wise), while leaving enough room for the music to breathe and flourish in its simplicity. Opening track “World in My Eyes” or “Blue Dress” are good examples of this mix of playful lyrics and lively melodies that are abound in DEPECHE MODE’s music.
Dark yet uplifting, the album features an array of ominous guitar melodies, seductive and sensual vocals, gloomy bass lines, and pulsating electronic soundscapes that have made such songs as “Policy of Truth” or the widely known and loved “Enjoy the Silence” and “Personal Jesus,” staples in DEPECHE MODE’s career. On the other hand, “Waiting for the Night” has a certain fragility and delicacy to it coming from the atmospheric keys and almost whispered vocals, while “Sweetest Perfection” is more rhythmic and undulating as Dave Gahan’s deep vocals mesh with the hazy orchestration. The bass effects and synth overlays make “Halo” such a darkly delicious song to listen to and “Blue Dress” has a certain ethereal quality to it as it seems to float somewhere out of time and space. Album closer “Clean” is more dramatic and somber, with pounding drums, electronic swirls, and grave vocal deliveries from both Dave Gahan and Martin Gore, who harmonize with each other perfectly. A suitable way to end an album titled “Violator,” don’t you think?
This album still represents DEPECHE MODE at its absolute best. It is brooding, mysterious, moody, and bouncy yet oddly muscular and vibrant from start to finish, with many highlights and melodic hooks to make it memorable and enjoyable. The fact that it is an “all killer no filler” type of album more than warrants “Violator” the tag of timeless classic in music in general (rock or otherwise), not just in DEPECHE MODE’s impressive back-catalog.
Written by Andrea Crow
- World in My Eyes
- Sweetest Perfection
- Personal Jesus
- Waiting for the Night
- Enjoy the Silence
- Policy of Truth
- Blue Dress