More often than not considered little more than singles-orientated chart fodder for much of the Eighties, the Depeche Mode brand was generally viewed as being largely irrelevant by 1990. Broadly thought of (by then) as fairly one dimensional and deeply unfashionable, synthpop had long since been closing in on its own use-by date, and it was going to take something extra special for DM to survive as a going concern heading into a brave new decade. And this time it was going to take something rather more tangible than new haircuts for Messrs Gahan, Gore, and co …
What Depeche Mode came up with is Violator, an album now widely regarded as the band’s masterpiece. Certainly it is the album most universally acknowledged as the one that thrust the band beyond the realm of the singles charts, and into the far more challenging and credible world of the album market. This was achieved not by abandoning its core strengths (or those glossy synths), but by developing upon them.
Violator is the sound of a band arriving at the crossroads and embracing the task at hand by adopting a darker, much harder edge to its trademark sound. Lyrically too, DM seemed more assured than they’d ever been before, the tunes this time around supplemented by a far stronger set of words than fans had been used to on previous efforts. Although, it has to be said, there are a couple of junctures on Violator still prone to induce the odd bout of cringing.
Even the more casual observer will recognise this album's best moments – ‘Personal Jesus’, ‘Enjoy The Silence’, and ‘World In My Eyes’ (to name only the most obvious tracks) have all been remixed, reconfigured, and regurgitated in so many different forms over the past two decades and that in itself is perhaps the ultimate testimony to the quality and longevity of Violator. The original versions as found on here remain just as essential, and along with ‘Policy Of Truth’, ‘Halo’, and the rather ironic* ‘Clean’, they form the core of Violator, and indeed all rate right up there as genuine synthpop classics.
(*ironic mainly because – allegedly – Gahan himself was about to enter a prolonged period of heroin addiction. I’ve seen it stated that ‘Clean’ is possibly about something other than hard drug use, but I very much doubt it).
It hardly comes as any great surprise that the release of Violator also coincided with DM finally achieving a modicum of respectability in the US – specifically as pre-eminent purveyors of dark pop within the still fledgling alt-goth genre. And although it would take a couple of post-Violator full-length efforts to really cement that status, this album essentially provided the coveted breakthrough.
So yep, Violator is quite probably the best Depeche Mode album of all, and something of a major return to form at the time.
Here's 'World In My Eyes':