After nearly a decade of critical barrage, Depeche Mode delivered their masterpiece, ‘Violator’.
The album simultaneously lays the golden era of synth-pop to rest and achieves a creative and commercial peak for the band. It represents the nearly 10 years worth of progress within the sounds of Martin Gore that show a departure from the overly sweet and simple electronic cuts that DM became infamous for (‘Just Can’t Get Enough’), and towards a legitimate darkness and atmosphere that goes beyond just simple branding efforts and shows an authentic struggle with addiction, lust and depression.
The work of legendary producer Flood is evident here in spades. It’s a beautiful coincidence that Nine Inch Nails debuted ‘Pretty Hate Machine’ (also produced by Flood) when this was being finalised due to their mature approach to synth-rock. But ‘Violator’ has the nuance and age of a band worn in from years of honing their sound and concept for better (‘Stripped’) and for worse (‘Master and Servant’). The parallels of drug abuse, misery and sex are there, but this is by far the superior record.
It’s important to remember that grunge was about to dominate the industry within a year of ‘Violator’, with this serving as the soundtrack to the limbo where the mainstream moved between its genres. In contrast to U2, the other major European export at the time, they were gearing up for ‘Actung Baby’ (also produced by Flood), which they previously worked with on their legendary ‘The Joshua Tree’, which the cover art by Anton Corbijn also marks an overlap with DM as he spearheaded the visuals for DMs leather-clad and greasier aesthetic. This trio of records I’d argue marks a movement in the precedents established by Bowie Ala ‘Low’ and Eno towards mature topics in pop, rock and electronic music in the mainstream
From the start of their career as fresh-faced chart-toppers, DM spiralled and worked their way towards darkness that is fully actualised on ‘Violator’. The title alone shows a more sinister intent to invade rather than charm. The two major singles coming off the back of the album contributed to the band's explosion in popularity and subsequent cult status. ’Personal Jesus’ delves into the idolatry of Elvis as accompanied by Johnny Cash-like guitar riffs (which Cash then covered in a full-circle moment on his American Recordings series), and remains the staple DM single. ‘Enjoy the Silence’ however, is a more subtle and beautiful ballad which disguises a drug ballad in the form of a love song.
Besides these two masterful singles, ‘World in My Eyes’ condones the hedonism precedent for the record and shows an unrepentant self-indulgence that signals an all-in approach that encapsulates and intrigues. ‘Waiting for the Night’ is a minimalist gem that shows just how modest the band can be with bringing the synths down low to an almost-ambient level, which remains a shock considering their propensity to overdo the electronics. This is something they again peaked with their previous work which enjoyed a resurgence (similar to that of Kate Bush circa Stranger Things) due to ‘Never Let Me Down Again’ getting featured on HBO's The Last of Us.
'Violator' marks a turning point in all the genres the record works in, and shattered the world in its wake with its immense sound and darkness. It remains one of the best albums of all time.
‘Violator’ is available in the Shop now.