Thirty years ago: a retrospective review of Depeche Mode’s 1990 album, “Violator”
Following their 1987 album “Music For The Masses” and a live album in early 1989 (“101”), Depeche Mode settled down to writing and recording new material for their seventh studio release. Surprisingly, the first fruit of this new project was ‘unleashed’ in the Autumn of 1989, while production was still nowhere near complete on the album, which was spread across five different studios in London, New York, Milan and Gjerlev in Denmark.
With a dramatic change of direction when compared with their previous releases, chiefly down to producer Mark Ellis aka Flood (who had been an engineer on their 1985 album “Shake The Disease”), The Mode reinvented themselves, this time with a more alt-rock, band feel, whilst retaining a certain amount of electro-pop to satisfy the core of their fanbase who had worshipped them for over a decade. By the end of March 1990 we could all judge for ourselves just what we thought of this new and exciting direction…
1. World In My Eyes
The album begins with the superb “World In My Eyes” which sets the scene for DM in the 90’s. A new beginning. It’s still very Depeche but this track raises the bar with different levels that will become apparent throughout the album. A highly addictive synth instrumental that separates each verse and chorus. A short verse. A lively chorus that often seems devoid of the rest of the song and takes an unexpected diversion from how the beginning of the song is interpreted. “World In My Eyes” was the fourth and final single released from the album in September 1990, a full year later on from the first. It peaked at No.17 in the UK, giving the band four straight top twenty hits from the same album and No.52 in America, the lowest charted of all four singles.
2. Sweetest Perfection
And already something completely different. With strings and almost bare guitars, the dark and quirky “Sweetest Perfection” repeats its message again and again. And that’s another trait of this album, repetitiveness. Banging each song’s theme, message and title home at every second of time available. We learn the “Sweetest Perfection” is also the sweetest injection, the sweetest correction and the sweetest affection.
3. Personal Jesus
DM1990 began in September 1989 with this highly memorable song with its opening line “reach out and touch faith”. Was it meant to cause a stir or just announce that the band were back after nearly two years of touring and recording? It certainly caused DM fans and the music industry to take note of this striking new and fluid anthem that beats out its message over and over: “you’re your own, personal Jesus”. The track was certainly an instant hit with the record buying public, reaching No.13 in the UK, their highest charting single in their home country for more than five years, and No.28 in America, again their best chart placing since “People Are People” back in early 1984. Depeche Mode were not done. In fact they had just begun!
“Halo” returns us to the electro-synth of “World In My Eyes” with heavy keyboards and programming together with Dave Gahan’s often distant and sincere vocals. I would love to of seen this released as a single, but perhaps five singles from a nine track album is a bit overkill. But then Michael Jackson released virtually all the tracks on his “Bad” album, so why not! “It will be worth it”, quote unquote!
5. Waiting For The Night
More dark and sombre sounds now with “Waiting For The Night”, which is very simplistic in production with only the smallest of accompaniment to Gahan’s vocals and at over six minutes in length, you are never consciously aware of just how long this lasts as the backing track follows the same pattern throughout with Gahan’s often repetitive “I’m waiting for the night to fall” inter woven. Quite brilliant.
6. Enjoy The Silence
The second single released prior to the album’s launch was the now Mode standard bearer “Enjoy The Silence“, which came in February 1990. Like “World In My Eyes”, this song is more of an uptempo number that was bound to have an impact on the charts around the world. It’s just no one really knew how much. I love the drum programming on this song which skips and doubles every three beats. This song is full of orchestral atmosphere as well and is another six plus minuter, in fact, the longest track on this album. The song gave The Mode their first UK top ten hit in six years when it spent three weeks at No.6 in Feb/March of 1990 but more than that, it also blessed them with their FIRST US top ten hit ever! The song also topped the US alternative chart as well as reaching the top ten in a further fifteen countries worldwide. For many DM fans this is simply one of their finest hours and a song that justifiably ranks as the greatest of all great hits.
7. Policy Of Truth
And it doesn’t stop there. Bring on “Policy Of Truth” which builds from its seamlessly never ending intro. This really gets going for me when the beat kicks in around twenty seconds into the song and it never falls below absolute perfection from there on. If there has to be a standout track of this album, then “Policy Of Truth” is it. The middle-eight and instrumental after each chorus are a highlight as is the electronic guitars that cover and coat the final minute or so of this completely awesome song. It’s hardly surprising that this was not left to just album fodder and it was released as the third single in the early Summer of 1990, peaking at No.16 in the UK but performing even better Stateside, where it made No.15 as well as, again, topping the US alternative chart. Put the volume high for this one and decide for yourself in your youth, the policy of truth!
8. Blue Dress
More superb electronic noises come with “Blue Dress”, another stripped back number after the excess of the last two tracks. “Blue Dress” works best in the instrumental intermissions between each verse and chorus. The title of the song is never actually mentioned, although the notion of “putting on” a blue dress is relayed again and again in a song that Gahan himself actually described as “pervy”! For it simply describes watching a girl putting on a blue dress! I guess this then is Depeche Mode’s “Every Breath You Take”?! And it certainly ends ‘pervy’ with electronic laughter and a rollercoastering synth wave.
“Clean”, the final track on the album, was inspired by Pink Floyd’s 1971 song “One Of These Days”. The song pumps its title home amid a raft of guitar and mid-tempo beats as well as pulsing synth breaths right to the quick fade to end. In fact, although at five and a half minutes in length, no sooner has this track just got going, it’s all over and done with. And so is the album. Genius or what?
“Violator” was released on 19th March 1990 and with two highly successful singles behind it, it was bound to be a huge success. The album broke records around the world, peaking at No.2 in the UK, at the time, their highest album chart position (only broken when “Songs Of Faith And Devotion” went to No.1 in 1993) and selling just shy of 300,000 copies. The album also outperformed its predecessors, particularly “Music For The Masses”, in most other territories, from across Europe (France No.1, Germany No.2) to as far as Australia. But it was America which really classified “Violator” a big success.
Just as “Enjoy The Silence” gave the band their first US top ten singles chart hit, “Violator” followed suit, reaching No.7 and eventually accounting for more than three million of the six million copies the album has sold to date. The Mode would of course eclipse chart positions with their next album, the aforementioned “Songs Of Faith And Devotion”, but in terms of sheer volumes shifted, “Violator” became and remains their best selling studio release to date. Today, thirty years later, “Violator” still sounds completely fresh and current and would stand up to anything in today’s charts. Let’s be grateful that we’ve had three decades in which to bask continually in its utter glory.
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