On 19 March 1990, my idea of music, my perception of music, in fact, and whilst it sounds over the top to say so it is true, my whole life changed. I’ve often been accused of placing too much importance in music and probably rightly so, but Depeche Mode’s Violator had such a fundamental impact on my life that I can genuinely say that it changed me and there isn’t a day that has gone by since its release that I haven’t either listened to it or, at the very least, hummed or sang one of its nine magical tunes.
This isn’t a review of the album, as my views on that are fairly well documented. This is more a number of random thoughts, albeit ones with a shameless bias. I’ll try and keep the life changing bits to the paragraph above
What’s so special about Violator though? It is, after all, just another Depeche Mode album. Spiky haired, dress wearing, Multi Coloured Swap Shop appearing chumps who just couldn’t get enough until they turned a bit depressing? Pah. The rest of the world always knew what Britain pretended not to. Depeche Mode were and always have been a big deal. From 1984, they were playing huge venues in Germany, France and other European countries. From 1986, they were playing surprisingly huge venues in America, culminating in 1988’s huge Tour For The Masses which, let’s not forget, led to them filling the Pasadena Rose Bowl with 65,000 or so devoted (pun intended) fans. 1985 and 1988 saw the band go behind the Iron Curtain to play gigs which not only was an extreme rarity for any band at the time, but was also a huge thing for Eastern European fans of the band, the result of which sees them viewed as demi Gods in most formerly Eastern European countries even to this day. All these things bubbled around until Depeche released Violator. Remember, in their home country, during the globe straddling 1988 Music For The Masses tour when they filled stadia all over the globe, Depeche Mode were still playing venues the size of Edinburgh Playhouse or Bradford St George’s Hall. Violator changed everything.
REACH OUT AND TOUCH FAITH
My first experience of Violator era was hearing Personal Jesus at my mate’s house on his brother’s cassette single. I’d got into Depeche through 101 and liked, but didn’t love, Personal Jesus upon hearing it. The lyrics and a picture I still love of Dave in crucifix pose with the rest of the band behind him appeared in Smash Hits but none of that particularly moved me or grabbed me. It wasn’t until January 1990 when I heard Enjoy The Silence on Radio 1 in my mum’s car that the Depeche Mode thing in me awoke. I’ve overdone this moment in the past on this blog but, at the risk of repeating myself, let me just say that hearing Enjoy The Silence on that rainy day in Castle Douglas, a small town in South West Scotland that none of you will have heard of, did something to me. A switch flipped, something changed. What was this music? Electronic music and pop music collided. Depeche Mode produced a song so perfect, arguably their most famous, that anyone who heard it could not fail to love. For me, in the back of a Fiat Regatta in a small town no-one had heard of, for the first time, it felt like a musician was speaking directly to me.
And from that moment, I was hooked.
There weren’t that many record shops in Dumfries and Galloway. I bought the cassette single and 12” in Woolworths in Castle Douglas once the single came out and that was the start of the, some would say, ridiculous Depeche Mode record collecting that has followed me ever since. Oddly, and this is where it all gets a but Depeche-y, I bought the extra limited 12” after I bought the main 12” but before I bought the limited 12” due to the peculiarities of my home region’s record shops. For the 2 or 3 of you who aren’t DM fans and have wandered here by accident, at the time it was normal for Depeche to release a 12” and then a further limited edition 12” full of remixes of the main track. Anyway, for Enjoy The Silence, they released the standard two 12” singles plus lovely 3” cd singles together with an extra limited (XL) cd and 12”. I went to Domino, the record shop on the Whitesands in Dumfries and bought the XL 12” for 99p. On sale at the same time was the cd single, for the same bargain price of 99p, which I chose not to buy and ended up spending £35 on thanks to EBay many years later.
Most of you have forgotten the point of this by now haven’t you?
Anyway, in a worrying taste of what was to come, I ended up with the limited edition 12” of Enjoy The Silence in the summer of 1990. My family went to Italy on holiday that year and, as my mum refuses to fly, we went to London by train, stopping for a couple of nights before continuing our seemingly endless journey to Livorno later on. That break in London took me to HMV however and there I bought the beautiful, yellow sleeved with black rose picture 12” Enjoy The Silence single. I couldn’t listen to it for a fortnight but that didn’t matter. I carried it from London to Italy and back to Castle Douglas, protecting it as if it were a scared text. It was a perfect work of art. Its songs (three remixes of Enjoy The Silence – Bass Line, Harmonium, Ricki Tik Tik and the instrumental Memphisto) were like mysteries to me. What would they sound like? How could a band have different versions of a song on a record? Why is this cover basically the same as the other 12” cover but in a different colour? I was inexperienced in all of this, but thankfully Depeche were there to guide me. To this day there remains something in the minimalist beauty of Anton Corbijn’s sleeves for the various Enjoy The Silence releases that can’t fail to give me the shivers. Art and music colliding perfectly. Enjoy The Silence remains my favourite song/piece of music by anyone ever and I know for a fact that nothing will ever beat it.
THE ONE THAT I PREFER
Enjoy The Silence made such an impression on me that I bought Violator on cassette in Woolworths in Castle Douglas on the day it came out. I still have the tape now. The cover is the purest, most beautiful album cover of all time, a red rose on a jet black background, and the cassette itself, plastic with a jet black sticker with the words written in the most perfect font on each side, containing 47 minutes and 2 seconds of the most perfect music ever written, a triumph. The inner sleeve, with its stark but perfect rendition of the lyrics with four tiny pictures of the authors of this masterpiece obliquely glancing at you. This is art as music. I could, and regularly do, go on ad nasuem about Violator as, to this day, I still can’t muster the words to explain how earth shatteringly perfect it is. And that’s just from looking at the sleeve. What about the music?
I’ve done the whole Violator review thing before so won’t repeat it here. Suffice to say that every beat, bleep and beep of the album is imprinted on my soul; from the robotic pop of World In My Eyes, to the swooning majesty of Sweetest Perfection, to the glam stomp of Personal Jesus, through the heart breakinginly perfect Halo, to the tear inducing joy of Waiting For The Night, stopping by the greatest thing ever written-ness of Enjoy The Silence, saying hi to the pop perfection of Policy Of Truth, looking in on the should-I-be-watching-this glory of Blue Dress to the best ever album ender of Clean; every single second of Violator is perfect.Every single one. Not one note is wasted, not one hand overplayed. Absolute and utter perfection
I quickly became obsessed with the album. I played my tape over and over and over again, never letting it out of my sight save for one misguided weekend when a girl in my class borrowed it and returned it with the top left corner of the sticker on side two slightly peeled back. You don’t forget those things. Violator became my guide from 16 year old to 17 year old and beyond and even now, as a 40 year old, I still play it more times than most people think is rational but I really don’t care. With this album I found Depeche Mode. Also, with this album the world found Depeche Mode and their World Violation tour saw them play venues like Dodgers Stadium and their Violator era is still viewed by many as a highpoint in electronic music and rightly so. The planets aligned for Depeche Mode in 1990 and Violator’s combination of perfect electronics, artistic sleeves and tour films (U2 were certainly watching) still stands the test of time.
Even if you have never heard any of it, go and listen to Violator right now. There are only nine songs but every one of them will touch you and once you love one, as I did with Enjoy The Silence, you’ll quickly love them all.
Music is an ever developing, ever flowing thing, but I can honestly say that no album will ever come close to Violator. And to Martin, Dave, Andy and Alan, I say thank you for that.