Following an album like “Violator” (1990) is daunting task. The album and the World Violation tour saw Depeche Mode become one of the biggest bands in the world. Their transition from synthesized teen-pop from the early 80s to the intense Electronic band at end had been complete. “Violator” was the ultimate culmination of that transition. For them, this is as good as it gets.
However, it came at a price for the band. Despite taking a long break before reconvening, the band’s personal relationship was strained. Dave Gahan wanted to take the band to a more Rock-oriented direction which led to creative differences among the band (he recently moved Los Angeles, following bands of that area). Martin Gore felt extremely pressured to write songs that could matched the quality of “Violator.”
The recording process for “Songs of Faith and Devotion” also brought many changes. They began to jam with each other and also lived in the same house together. It was the first time they had done both of these and it wasn’t an easy process for them to take. The lack of songs upon their jam sessions and Gahan’s growing heroin addiction added to their stress.
The cracks were shown even more when the band began to tour for the album. Gahan’s addiction got worse, Gore experienced seizures, Andy Fletcher felt “mentally unstable” and refused to play for the second half of the the tour and ultimately, Alan Wilder would leave the band.
But out of the turmoil, Depeche Mode was still churning out songs, some of their best songs that proves that they are truly one of greatest bands of their generation. The intensity is still there, it’s taken on a new form that longtime fans may find unsettling at first, but still genuine.
The opening track “I Feel You” shows this new form Depeche Mode took. The usage of non-electronic instruments dominates with Gore’s heavy guitar riffs, and Wilder’s crashing drum beats. You actually want to headbang to this, which is odd when you think about it. However, Gahan remains passionate in his vocal performance despite his addiction.
“Walking In My Shoes” is one of my favorite Depeche Mode songs ever. I love the message of trying to understand someone’s point of view of the things they’ve done before you judge them. This seems to be very true for the band due to them being extreme private and not wanting their personal lives to be intruded by the press despite the success they received.
In hindsight, it would make sense for Gahan considering his divorce from his first wife and later moving to Los Angeles following the World Violation tour.
“Condemnation” is a pleasant surprise on the album, because this a gospel-like track and Gahan managed to step up. The song brings religious imagery with Gahan, portraying this martyr figure willing to suffer for his beliefs so people can see this idea that he so passionately upholds.
This religious imagery continues on with tracks such as “Mercy In You” and “Judas.” The former brings a twisted belief that as long he received mercy from God, he will be okay. And this need for mercy would matter as he would do things that will stray him from his faith again and again. It’s even more so creepier with how desperately Gahan sings it with Gore’s backing vocals adding to it.
Throughout the album, the signs of the Depeche Mode of the old is almost nonexistent. “Songs of Faith and Devotion” isn’t as danceable as “Violator” or “Music for the Masses” (1987). The synthesizers are being used as bass riffs instead being the lead melody.
The only time that it gets close to 80s Depeche Mode is the track “Rush,” which features a prominent melody from the synths. It’s danceable as well, but it’s smothered by the non-electronic instruments and still feels different when compared to songs like “Personal Jesus” or “Strangelove.”
This album makes you want to sit down and contemplate the world around you. Although it’s not the first time Depeche Mode had written lyrics of that nature; it’s the first time you actually want to sit down with these thoughts. Whereas with their older work, you can still dance along with and almost accept how messed up the world can be. “Songs of Faith and Devotion” makes you want to look at the world in disgust and makes you feel horrible.
But in times like this, you want to lean towards a divine being to tell you what to do when you feel like this. That can surely explain why some people are overtly-religious and the album shows how that can affect someone. Hence, the religious undertones that are present.
While Depeche Mode would continue on and produce solid records, “Songs of Faith and Devotion” is the last time the world will see the classic lineup of Gore, Gahan, Fletcher and Wilder.
Depeche Mode Post-Wilder is not bad but not on the level and “Songs of Faith and Devotion” shows how special Depeche Mode were with those four together producing masterpieces that will remain in the heart of millions for generations to come.
Track Picks: “I Feel You,” “Walking In My Shoes,” “Condemnation,” “Mercy In You,” “Rush,” “Get Right With Me,” “Rush” and “One Caress”
Label: Mute Records