Today's guest blog is by regular contributor and all round superstar Amanda Stock. Amanda has written this great article about Violator, its impact on her life and how, even 30 years later, she is still discovering new things about the album. Thanks very much Amanda.
Violator – My Personal Obsession
I was 22 years old when the brilliant, captivating Violator was released in March 1990.
I was a total fan girl by then. I still felt, the ONLY fangirl in the WORLD - well certainly in the UK. I seem to remember that the charts were full of hits produced by Stock, Aitken & Waterman at the time and whilst I loved a bit of pop, it was all about Depeche Mode for me. Dutch photographer and film director Anton Corbijn had taken over the creative reins for the band’s videos and he has to take full credit for making Depeche Mode look stylish and cool with his black and white, slightly “film noir”, obscure direction. It was bloody fabulous being a fan girl back then. Those videos definitely piqued my interest. I was lucky enough to have seen the band in 1988 on their Music For The Masses tour and when the documentary film of their final and 101st show, aptly titled 101, came out, I remember buying the video at HMV, Oxford Street and watching it about 50,000 times. Yes, the fans in the film were alright but it was all about the band’s performance on stage along with the snippets of interaction between band members. And not forgetting, Alan Wilder’s two minute demonstration of his keyboard skills on Black Celebration. Yes, it was really all about that. Anyway, Music For The Masses had strengthened my love for the band and their music but with Violator - my adoration became an obsession. One that has lasted 30 years.
There were three reasons for this: - 1) - Violator was a hypnotising, faultless, innovative masterpiece from start to finish, 2) - the band’s image and accompanying videos were REALLY sexy and 3) like I say, I was 22 - and hopelessly in love with Dave Gahan. As it happens, those three points are still true today. Except I’m 52 – but I digress.
It’s both unbelievable and incredible to me that Violator is celebrating its 30th anniversary this month because it still sounds as fresh and original as it did back then which are hallmarks of a great classic album.
If anyone unfamiliar with Depeche Mode’s music asks me for a recommendation, I will always say “start with Violator”. I think the vast number of “Devotees” would agree that it is their best work ever.
I have no significant personal recollection of the lead up to the album’s release or buying the album or listening to it for the first time. I remember the album cover and loving it. A black outer sleeve with a beautiful red rose – at odds with the album’s aggressive title. That image of the red rose and Depeche Mode has become one and the same, intertwined.
I have really struggled to put down into words how insanely perfect this album is which has surprised me because I thought it would be easy. But, there are no words to do it justice really. It needs to be listened to - absorbed and consumed to be truly appreciated. So that would be my advice to anyone reading this who has never listened to Violator before – please just give it a listen. It’s superb. In the meantime, I write from my heart about the love I have for the nine songs on Violator.
Personal Jesus was the first single released ahead of the album. It’s safe to say that the video of the band dressed as cowboys in the desert hanging out with sexy “senoritas of the night” was a joy to behold. The song itself opens with two bluesy twangs of an electric guitar (yes, GUITAR) and a swaggering shout from Dave: - “Reach Out and Touch Faith”. Thumping, stomping drum rhythms and a cool, bluesy guitar riff take you on your own religious journey. In fact, Salvation and Sin, Guilt and Obsession are all central themes on Violator which I will write about more as we go. Personal Jesus is a song that still grabs me and sweeps me away. All worship surely should feel as good as this. That’s why this song is a massive favourite at gigs – because we are a congregation at that point, hands aloft, as we all sing together as one: “REACH OUT AND TOUCH FAITH!!” It’s a totally awe-inspiring, spiritual, listening experience.
The majestic, resplendent Enjoy the Silence was the next single. Even non DM fans love Enjoy The Silence. It’s a perfect pop song – it has an extremely catchy chorus and a fantastic dance beat with a sublime accompanying video of Dave climbing up mountains and crossing beautiful landscapes dressed as a King holding a deckchair.
Enjoy The Silence is a timeless classic. There is something beautifully haunting and melancholic about it. The opening, glistening, sighs of dark electronica always give me goose bumps and at the centre of the song is that gorgeous, rich guitar riff which makes me feel quite emotional. As with the rest of Violator there is divine poetry to be found in the lyrics of Martin Gore: “All I ever wanted, All I ever needed, is here, in my arms, Words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm.” That’s why Enjoy The Silence is without doubt, one of the greatest pop songs in modern times. And that’s why it is my favourite Depeche Mode song and will remain so forever.
As well as Personal Jesus and Enjoy The Silence, Waiting For The Night is a song around the theme of Salvation. I actually remember singing along to this – I loved the subdued tones of Dave and Martin together – the stillness, the calmness of this track. Gentle throbs and buzzes of electronica open the song then Dave sounding pensive, introspective: “I’m waiting for the night to fall, I know that it will save us all” – then Martin joining in harmony: “When everything’s dark, keeps us from the stark reality”. I loved the rhyming of “dark” and “stark” – no real reason, it just appealed to me. The song has a solitary, nocturnal atmosphere, restrained and insular and is a great song to listen to when you just want to be alone. Martin and Dave’s vocals connect and blend effortlessly together. It’s absolutely bewitching. I listened to it recently on my drive to work – it was early morning, still really dark and there was a full moon and I must admit I did have a tear in my eye.
Clean is a song about sin and redemption. Not necessarily drug-related but a song about moving on from any bad situation, ultimately a song of forgiveness which makes it a fitting, closing end to the album. The song has an intoxicating, heavy, electronic pulse and a foreboding, throbbing drum beat throughout. String sounds intensify the atmosphere two thirds of the way in and Dave has never sounded so good – his vocal deep and defiant. There is an ominous undertone to the lyrics: “I don’t claim to know where my holiness goes, I just know that I like what is starting to show…….sometimes”. The addition of that final word gives the listener the impression that Dave isn’t quite as clean as he proclaims. An interesting point here about Clean - whilst listening to the song for this article, I noticed a dark whisper at 3.43 minutes in which I have never, ever noticed before! That’s what I love about music – I have listened to Clean for 30 years and never picked up on that before! Just goes to show, there is always something new to discover about your favourite album. I must mention the video. Female fans of Martin were quite frankly, not very impressed when they saw Martin snogging the face off that girl. But, let’s move on.
Album opener, World In My Eyes is the one song that doesn’t quite neatly fit in with the themes of salvation, guilt and obsession. But it’s certainly sinful in sound and is a fabulous song about lust. Dave sounds like a rather persuasive travel companion as he opens up World In My Eyes with “Let me take you on a trip, Around the world and back, And you won’t have to move, you just sit still” – that one line eloquently suggesting this is a journey of the body not a physical trip. The metal bass sounds from the opening chords hook you in immediately and the track has a seductive, heavy, electronic beat. It’s a killer tune and a great dance track – and another favourite of mine. The video is fantastic too – Dave driving to an outside cinema with a hot model, interspersed with grainy, black and white concert footage of the band, notably Martin in shorts and Dave on stage in those white jeans strutting his stuff, completely in his element.
Onto the theme of Guilt - Halo (the single that never was) is quite simply STUNNING. I will never tire of this track. Sinister, pounding bass and shadowy synths give the song a sombre gloom and the lyrics are some of the best that Martin has ever written: : “You wear guilt, like shackles on your feet, like a halo in reverse” – just exquisite. So is the chorus which evokes the fall out of guilt so perfectly: “And when our worlds they fall apart, when the walls come tumbling in, though we may deserve it, it will be worth it”. Halo is quite simply magnificent. I have so many emotions wrapped up in this song. Policy Of Truth has the same underlying themes of guilt with a video where, if I’m being honest wished I had played a part – it involves lots of shadowy embracing with the band and is a spot-on song about betrayal and lies: “Never again is what you swore the time before” – how clever is that line? I love the sensual synth waves at 2:26, the slide guitar-esque instrumentation, the crystal clear electronics, everything.
Blue Dress and Sweetest Perfection are songs of Obsession and both sung by Martin and may be the reason why there were alot of girl fans obsessed with him too. Blue Dress was known as “the pervy song” and for good reason – the song centres around Martin watching a girl put a dress ON and how it “makes him a happy man”. He asks: “Put it on, and don’t say a word, put it on, the one that I prefer”. The song is an erotic one with an enticing guitar twang and sultry layers of synth and as I write this, I have just realised I don’t listen to this song enough.
Sweetest Perfection opens with a shuffling, scatter drum start and bluesy, spiral keyboards which mesmerise and hypnotise. “I stop and I stare too much, afraid that I care too much, and I hardly dare to touch, for fear that the spell may be broken”. It’s a tantalising portrayal of obsession.
I saw the band on the World Violation tour at the old Wembley arena in November 1990. They were on fire. A lot is written about the brilliant stage images used on the next tour - the infamous Songs Of Faith and Devotion tour in 1993/4 that went on forever but I was spellbound by the black and white footage played in the background on the World Violation tour. For me, it was Depeche Mode’s best gig. They were still in tune with their audience before it got messy later on. I distinctly remember losing my voice that night because I didn’t stop screaming. I am so lucky I got to see them during those years.
Violator has been a constant, musical companion to me for the last 30 years – I have lost count of the amount of times I have reached for it. If ever I am lucky enough to meet the band, I’m not sure what I would say to them but I would thank them, from the bottom of my heart, for Violator.
I leave you with a photo of my Violator mementos: my tour programme, my ticket, the vinyl release purchased back in March 1990 and two CDs. One I bought several years later and the other, a signed copy by the whole band - a very special gift to me I will treasure.