Back in the late ‘80s, DEPECHE MODE were an unstoppable force in the electronic music scene. Take the trio of albums they released between 1986 and 1990 – “Black Celebration” (1986), “Music for the Masses” (1987), and “Violator” (1990) – as proof that they were on a steady rise. With 1993’s “Songs of Faith and Devotion,” they flipped the script and delivered an album that moved them away from their usual synth-pop fare and into alternative rock/grunge territory. Even within this darker musical soundscape, their core sound was identifiable and the album soon became a classic in its own right. “Songs of Faith and Devotion” was released on March 22, 1993, through Mute Records. Sire Records and Reprise Records released the album in the United States a day later.
This new approach to DEPECHE MODE’s sound came from Dave Gahan’s interest in the grunge scene that was taking hold in the US, spearheaded by such bands as NIRVANA and SOUNDGARDEN. As such, they began experimenting with not just distorted guitars, but also with synthesizers, strings, and even female vocals, which gave the songs a certain gospel feel. Take, for instance, single “I Feel You” as a good example of their grunge leanings, while “Condemnation” showcases their gospel influences. Even the production differed, as the band again opted for experimentation, thus using reversed piano (“Mercy in You”) or reverse reverberation of uilleann pipes (“Judas”) to create haunting atmospheres. The gamble paid off, as the album debuted at number one in both the UK and the US.
The making and recording of the album was a whole melodrama all of its own, with the band living and working together in the same house in Madrid. The looming specter of their previous albums’ success (especially “Violator“) didn’t help things much and neither did the continuous friction and creative differences within the band in general and between Martin Gore and Alan Wilder in particular. But since making music works in cathartic ways, this tension and stress contributed to the creation of some of DEPECHE MODE’s best tracks: “In Your Room” and “Walking in My Shoes.” The following Devotional Tour kept all the shenanigans from the studio going not just full steam, but even amplified the band members’ personal issues, which ranged from drug and alcohol use to depression. It’s a wonder DEPECHE MODE survived this period both as a band, as well as individuals, even if they had to continue as a trio after Alan Wilder left the band in 1995.
All that aside, one thing is clear: the rock n’ roll aura surrounding “Songs of Faith and Devotion” is still palpable 30 years after its release. This album may be the odd-one-out in DEPECHE MODE’s vast and rich catalog, but it is its uniqueness and impassioned nature that sets itself apart from the rest. Each song has something that is entirely its own thing, something that makes it its own universe of sounds and moods. From muscular “I Feel You” and vulnerable “Walking in My Shoes,” through the mellow ambiance of “Judas” and the gospel vibe of “Get Right with Me,” all the way to the pulsating electro mash-up that is “Rush,” orchestral ballad “One Caress,” and brooding “Higher Love,” the experimental and emotional feel of these songs is undeniable.
Truth be told, some songs are far better than others, either from a compositional point of view, instrumental perspective, or even lyrical standpoint. Consequently, such tracks as “Mercy in You,” “Rush,” or “Get Right with Me” are not really up to par with the rest, but they do add to the overall mood of the album and definitely help with the aforementioned uniqueness factor. But then again, not every song has to be perfect in order for the album to be seen as a masterpiece. In between the lyrical content of the first couple of tracks – especially “Judas” and “Condemnation” – and that of the last few tracks – most notably “One Caress” and “Higher Love” – the album’s themes of faith in a higher power and devotion to a lover is beautifully taking shape.
To sum it up, “Songs of Faith and Devotion” may not be a faithful representation of who DEPECHE MODE are as a band to the same extent as “Violator” (1990) or follow-up “Ultra” (1997). No, this is a passionate and moving affair that boasts some of their best songs, as well as Dave Gahan’s best vocals on “Condemnation.” It is still DEPECHE MODE, but clad in a NIRVANA T-shirt with a guitar in one hand and a leather jacket in the other hand. Nonetheless, “Songs of Faith and Devotion” continued the band’s winning streak, proving that changing the formula and the way you do things can yield some pretty wild and spectacular results. Or, to put it in a more poetic way, this album is proof that misery and chaos can sometimes lead a band to create a genuine piece of art.
Written by Andrea Crow
- I Feel You
- Walking in My Shoes
- Mercy in You
- In Your Room
- Get Right with Me
- One Caress
- Higher Love
- David Gahan
- Martin Gore
- Alan Wilder
- Andrew Fletcher