Violator – Depeche Mode (1990)

Violator album cover
Violator album cover

The early ‘90s marked the beginning stages of Modern Rock an a mainstream pop force. Bands like U2, INXS and The Cure were filling arenas and stadiums when not much more than a decade earlier they were $10 club acts. One of those bands to gradually make the transition from under to over exposed was Depeche Mode. Formally a longtime darling of the New Romantic “pouty boy” set, the band rose to some prominence with Music for the Masses  in 1987.  Composed of four charter members, the band’s lineup stayed relatively consistent with Dave Gahan and Martin Gore the band’s nucleus. Vince Clarke, a once and former member was instrumental in launching Yaz00 and Eurasure.

By the time the band was in the studio for Violator, they were on a trajectory to mainstream stardom. The band had a successful production formula starting as far back as 1987’s Black Celebration of creating demos and going into the studio to mix and master. Sensing their upward momentum on the charts and growing popularity in the US, the band made a gamble in an effort to change the way they worked.

They basically got bored with their old approach to making music and wanted to do something new. So to bring in some new inspiration, they partied heavily in Milan and wrote new material in alternating bouts of inspiration. Once that was done they went to Denmark to record what would be their most commercially successful album to date.

The single “Personal Jesus” set the tone for the album with its blues-like structure and catchy if not vaguely blasphemous title. While church groups may have protested the song (it really could have worked in their favor if they were savvy), the public in general put their money in the collection bucket to the tune of certified gold status for the single.  Not since 1984’s “People Are People” had the band scored such a huge hit in America.

A clue to their sudden popularity came at a routine record company sponsored event. The release party scheduled for a LA record store was overwhelmed with more than 20,000 fans prompting the band to cancel the in amazement. “Personal Jesus“  was just the beginning as the second single “Enjoy the Silence”, a song about dancing through the apocalypse put them over the top with their first top 10 US hit.

Other songs like “Policy of Truth” and the funky “World In My Eyes” would score minor spots on the charts, but still do better than almost any single from the first 10 years of the bands discography. Much of the pouting and sadness of previous Depeche Mode material was still there, only this time the band opened up their song repertoire to address more saucy subjects like sex, lust and broader social issues.

New fans were not the only ones won over as the critics were unusually kind, calling Violator a balanced and entertaining album. It is quite possible the best of Depeche Mode’s work, combining the depressed-but-lets-dance mood the band was known for at its most accessible. Publicly, lead singer Dave Gahan was dealing with personal demons that somehow would make his writing more palatable. The next release Songs of Faith and Devotion would make the formerly obscure boys from Basildon truly a household name.

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