In 1990, Depeche Mode released what many consider to be their finest album to date. Whether or not it is, is purely subjective, but what cannot be argued with is its enduring popularity to this day. Here Paul Scott-Bates re-appraises the album.
Spawning 4 UK Top 20 singles and grossing over 15 million sales Violator is a timeless album often regarded as a classic and frequently referenced in ”Ëgreatest album’ listing. The album was the follow-up to the USA-breaking ‘Music For The Masses’, three years in the making, and a new approach to recording by the band.
For the uninitiated, Violator sounds like a singles album, track after track of competent song-writing courtesy of Martin Gore ”â probably his finest period, and a clinical production by the band with Flood. Recorded at Logic Studios (Milan) and Puk Studios (Denmark) the album consisted of 11 tracks (two uncredited).
Opener World In My Eyes, the fourth single from the album, immediately sets the quality of the tracks to follow. Perfect pop, a sound well ahead of the digital age, racing along with clinical perfection, tight beats and a terrific hook. The pace drops immediately with the slow, scatter drum intro to Sweetest Perfection, the first of two tracks fronted by Gore. Characteristically with his lead-vocal attempts, the song starts slowly and builds and builds to a sudden end after looped vocals and extended echoes. A grower of a track.
Single from the previous year – Personal Jesus – follows, and is still one of their most popular tracks date. One of many DM songs that has been covered over the years, most notably by Marilyn Manson and Johnny Cash (who performed the acoustic version on his stunning The Man Comes Around album). Represented on the album by a slightly extended version, the song was later remixed by Stargate as a 2011 single and a taster for DM’s final release album with EMI, Remixes 81-04.
The thundering Halo, again a track well worthy of a single release, follows. Further indication of the rich vein of songwriting that Gore was in at this time. Side 1 (if you’re a vinyl fan) comes to a close with the haunting Waiting For The Night. Dave Gahan’s sometimes whispered vocal a perfect accompaniment to Gore’s silenced, almost shouted backing vocal on the fade-out.
Enter Side 2, and arguably one of the greatest pop-songs of modern times. It’s hard to imagine that Enjoy The Silence began life as a harmonium demo and was only changed to an up-beat version at the suggestion of Alan Wilder. The groups highest UK single since 1984’s People Are People, Enjoy The Silence reached number 6 and stayed there for 3 weeks. It is also their only Billboard top 10 success. Hardly surprising that it was voted Best British Single at the 1991 Brit Awards (a ceremony that has otherwise ignored the group in over three decades). As with Personal Jesus, a remixed version was also released as a single – in 2004, Enjoy The Silence”âReinterpreted, a remix by Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda. The first of two ”Ëuncredited’ tracks on the album, Crucified, is tagged on to the end and features Gahan on guitar.
Policy Of Truth, their 25th single release, is still the only one to be a bigger success in the USA than the UK. Remixed by Francois Kevorkian for single release, it continued the loud, sharp, drum, effect carried through the album. Strangely omitted from the bands Best Of album released in 2006.
Gore returns to lead vocal on Blue Dress. A low key affair about watching a girl dress in her (his?) favourite attire. “Can you believe something so simple, something so trivial, makes me a happy man. Can’t you understand? Say you believe just how easy it is to please me”Â. The second ”Ëhidden’, unnamed track follows.
The album ends with Clean featuring Wilder on bass and drums, and, one of Gahan’s best DM performances. A slow starter again, building and building as a fitting conclusion to an album which, over 20 years after its original release still sounds as fresh as the day it was released. What is also impressive, is that a further six tracks appeared on single b-sides, with at least two (Happiest Girl and Sea Of Sin) well worthy of inclusion on the album.
There is no doubt that Violator is a landmark album, its sales and successes confirming that it will continue to be so for a long long time to come.
All words Paul Scott-Bates. Paul’s website (where this first appeared) is Heaven Is A Place On Pendle. Paul has been working hard to save Radio Lancashire’s On The Wire, easily one of the best radio shows on the BBC. Follow him on twitter as @saveonthewire for all On The Wire news or follow his personal twitter, @hiapop.