Friday 20 March 2020


Picture courtesy of Michael Rose

As we saw earlier this month, Enjoy The Silence received a series of positive reviews in the British music press which was a rare and welcome thing. Violator fared equally as well, if not better. The NME gave it 8 out of 10 in its review (pictured above) without ever seeming to actually enjoy the album.

"Lyrically they're still dealing with raw emotions...(a)ll of those big subjects that can be hard to capture in a three minute pop songs, let alone being able to present such adult struggles to the pre-teen market. "

It goes on to quite madly say that "Enjoy The Silence is an excellent Pet Shop Boys' Opportunites soundalike" before adding "The nearest Depeche Mode ever get to being trippy is on their version oif Tangerine Dream's Clean."

I'm pretty sure Clean isn't a cover either unless I've been misreading Violator's writing credits all these years - and believe me I have read them. Still, 8 out of 10 eh? 

Picture courtesy of Michael Rose

Melody Maker didn't give scores out of ten like NME. Paul Lester gave the album a generally good review, noting

"Violator, their seventh studio album, contains Depeche Mode's most arresting work to date."

Quite right. He concluded his review, one which of course included reference to Just Can't Get Enough with the rather prescient:

"Violator is bleak and dark and not a little vicious. God knows what the hippy-happy, pastel coloured anti-style fascists of Clubland will make of it, but that's their problem. Depeche Mode's next venture should be quite murderous if this is anything to go by."

And we all know what happened next.

Picture courtesy of Michael Rose

Record Mirror gave the album 4 out of 5 and rather cleverly used the album's inner sleeve to accompany its review. I like that sort of thing. In his review, Tim Nicholson said:

" After years of trying, Depeche Mode have finally succeeded in making 'The Black Album'...with Violator they have fashioned a veritable dungeon of songs for you to jangle your manacles to."

Seems good I suppose? He went on to say:

"There are no noises out of place in this perfectly formed void. The songs are like bright stars in a black sky, or silver studs on a soft black leather jacket. The wonder is the more they strip it down the bigger they get. How low can they go?"

Again, I think that's a good review.

Smash Hits enjoyed the album, giving it 8 out of 10 and claiming "(t)here's no pop group quite like Depeche Mode, is there?"  One of the biggest compliments the review pays is when it says that Depeche "carry on making the same strange records that pay not the blindest bit of notice to what the rest of pop music sounds like."

If that isn't a reason to love Depeche Mode, what is? Only they could make an album like this, one that is "hypnotically addictive and...rather fab."

Picture courtesy of Stuart Cowan (@kpdcowan)

Q's review of the album was just as enthusiastic, with Violator being awarded 4 out of 5 by the magazine, Bonus points to Q too for that incredibly cool picture. The review said:

"The music remains neither particularly upbeat nor commercial, yet it's full of insidious songs that creep up on you and hug the brain with disrtrssing tenacity."

Superb. The review goes on:

"Yet this is not so much an album of doom and gloom as a seductive sharing of openness and intimacy...Creative but disciplined and always interesting...(i)n short Violator is a fine record which may not set the world on fire but deserves to singe it a bit."

The reviewer was certainly on the right track there.

Picture courtesy of Melvin Hardy

Sounds was harsh on Violator, only giving it three and a half out of five, It's a puzzling review, more trying to impress with its literary references than its assessment of the music:

"If Burroughs wrote for Gahan, Depeche Mode would be terrifying. But he doesn't. Martin Gore writes for Gahan and Depeche Mode are hilarious."

You've read William Burroughs have you? Impressive.  It then ends

"What a load of Ballards."

Very well done.

Picture courtesy of

The Times summed Depeche Mode up perfectly, well at least in the last part of this paragraph:

"The most enduring of all those funny Eighties synth-pop groups with singers who looked like Eric Idle (Harsh - very very harsh) Depeche Mode now has the assured touch of an international touring colossus, yet continues to inhabit its own mysterious universe, parallel to the rock mainstream."

Calling Sweetest Perfection "an unabashed hymn to the pleasures of intravenous drug taking" seems a bit too much of leap but the description of Halo as a song that retains the band's "cold grandeur" is rather nice, if a touch music critic by numbers.

Picture from

Away from Britain, The Boston Globe enjoyed Violator, but seemed to feel it was a bit too subdued calling it "(B)older in name than content." I think we'd all have been a bit worried if they'd released an album that matched the title. Megadeath style thrash or Rollins Band like hardcore would have been a bit too much of a leap from Music For The Masses.

In its review of 14th June 1990, Rolling Stone gave the album 2 and a half out of 5. The review which you can read here spends most of its time talking about New Order, The Beloved and AB bloody C before somewhat oddly saying:

"New Order broke pop only after it finally discarded Ian Curtis’s gloom, but Depeche Mode won its ever-growing audience the opposite way — the group has been single-mindedly suffocating in Doorsy depression ever since songsmith Vince Clarke left for Yazoo, and it’s becoming increasingly clear that the group will never again make a number as compelling as the 1981 gleeful rubber-duckie disco tune “Just Can’t Get Enough.” Teens too old or too kinky for New Kids on the Block apparently find David Gahan’s quavering moan sexy, but on Violator he sometimes comes off as slimy and self-involved. Depeche Mode has got a way with cute little mechanized blips, and the train whistles and raga rhythms and air-traffic-control signals put monotony on hold. Depeche Mode’s more tranquil hymns do have an ambient charm. But when the boys in the band try to make you dance, they revert to morose pop psychology and then never tell you how come they’re so sad."

Mainly bollocks isn't it?

Entertainment Weekly's review on 16th March 1990 seemed to like the album. It's hard to tell in many ways as I'm not entirely sure what a B- actually is:

"They’ve been around for years, Depeche Mode and their synthesizers, and surely by now everyone who knows about them has come to some conclusion. For some, they’re pop kings; for others, they’re too vapid, too mechanized, or too pompous.

But on Violator, anyway, their music is more varied than catchy pop needs to be. ”World in My Eyes,” the opening track, begins with music that sounds like some ungainly cartoon animal dancing. The second song, ”Sweetest Reflection,” starts low, then quickly adds something high and eerie, like the keening of a thousand tiny neon gnats...

Even ”Waiting for the Night,” on its surface a song about tranquillity, drifts on a sea of unease. There’s a worm eating at Depeche Mode’s gut. Maybe at heart they’re not wholly pop."

A sweet enough, erm,  reflection on the album. 

Overall, Violator was well received by the music press around the world. Reviews still suffered as a result of the media's inability to move beyond the band's earlier days, but that, I think, is partly if not wholly due to Depeche Mode's capacity to evolve a great speed. The release of Violator doubtless caused many to question their pre-conceived notions of the band and later reconsiderations of the album or reviews of the reissue have almost fallen over themselves to be the review that shouts loudest about Violator's status as an era defining release.

Welcome to the party music journalists. We knew how good this album was all along.