If you’ve got a song like World in My Eyes, put it right at the beginning of your album. Grab people in the first few seconds with the warm analogue bass sound, and throw them a beautifully catchy melody so they can’t escape. Welcome to Violator.
Just a year after the release of the enormous 101 live album, Depeche Mode seemed to have thoroughly said goodbye to the 1980s. Their eras of nervous plinky plonk and early experiments with samplers had long since been successfully closed off, and Music for the Masses (1987) had seen them start to transition from the edges of the black-wearing Goth movement to become early leaders of some kind of stadium rock. Violator, released a quarter of a century ago this week, saw them at the top of their game.
I’m always a little nervous about categorising things – picking genres – and so it is with Violator. To me, it’s firmly electronic, but others will pigeonhole it in any number of places, probably most commonly that horrible catch-all “alternate”. Sweetest Perfection is a great example of this – even trying to describe the sound would be enough to flummox the most descriptive writer. The answer, of course, is just to enjoy the slightly grimey but also beautiful music.
The first single from the album follows, the enormous Personal Jesus. It’s been covered by many renowned artists and loved by many more, but even if you know it well, it hides many levels of complexity. It’s not rock by any stretch of the imagination, and yet it’s full of bluesy guitars and finally sees Dave Gahan find his natural status as a Rock God.
Pretty much any track on here could have been a single, and the beautiful Halo is no exception. It’s a little more understated than some of the others, but by the time the chorus turns up it leaves little doubt that you’re in the middle of something very special indeed. Similarly, Waiting for the Night, disappointingly marking the halfway point of this album already, is tender and beautiful, with one of Gahan’s finest vocals in duet with songwriter Martin L. Gore‘s softer singing style.
This is firmly the age of the CD, otherwise there might be a gap just here, but suddenly out of nowhere, the enormous Enjoy the Silence turns up. If you don’t think this song is incredible, there is most definitely something wrong with you. The production is perfect – understated in all the right places, and a little overblown where it needs to be. Gore’s writing is at its most confident, and Gahan’s delivery is exceptional. You can try all you want to find fault here, but there is none.
What you didn’t get on the single was any mention of the title, Enjoy the Silence, and when it turns up here it heralds a short and weird instrumental, supposedly entitled Interlude No. 2 – Crucified. Its relevance on the album is a little unclear – it almost needs a “mind the gap” sign, but it provides a little breathing space before the final single Policy of Truth, perhaps the catchiest and most pop-flavoured track on here. It still retains the grubby undertones which have characterised the whole album, particularly in the last minute or so. You could be forgiven for thinking this was rock music, as discordant feedback loops through the song, and yet there’s hardly a guitar in sight.
Martin L. Gore sings his own vocals on Blue Dress, an intentionally nervous performance on a short and sweet song which mixes smoothly into Interlude No. 3, another uncredited instrumental which seems to be mainly built around samples of London Underground trains. Finally we’re ready for the enormous closing piece Clean.
As with the rest of the album, there’s an understated beauty to Clean. Depeche Mode were, as I said earlier, definitely at the top of their game, but it doesn’t sound as though they had actually realised this yet. Clean is an exceptional, anthemic song, made more than a little ironic by Gahan’s drug problems and Gore’s alcoholism which would come to a head at the time of the subsequent album.
It’s a fantastic closer to a truly perfect release, and the only thing left to do now is to listen to the follow-up, Songs of Faith and Devotion (1993).
If you can still find it, the double disc version is the essential one, but otherwise go for the 2013 remastered version, still widely available.