Violator, Depeche Mode

Note from Editor (because that’s what I am now):

A bit like being in a band, a lot of people like the idea of being a writer, but don’t really realise how much goes into it. I’ve asked a few people before if they’re interested, but nothing’s ever come of it. Until now. Having recently enjoyed some of Adam’s writing, I felt the time to expand, to march, to tool up, had come. This is the first contributed article for Mathematical Deathgrind from France. Gaze and rejoice.

Violator cover

Image courtesy of Mute Records

Having quite the melancholic temperament, it isn’t really radical of me to say that Depeche Mode’s Violator has long been one of my favourite purchases. A black cocktail of guilt, lust and misery that fuses electronica, pop, and rock, it shines from start to finish, propped up by Dave Gahan’s soothing cry and Martin Gore’s simplistic (yet heartfelt) song–writing.

Though it creeps in at the beginning with the menacingly upbeat World in My Eyes, a drone of sexual egotism, it ends with harsh reflection on Clean. It’s a journey that parallels the path many of us take through pleasure; at first a decadent rush, and then a sickly kind of satiation, questioning whether the piggish amounts of dopamine was worth it (although usually, yes.)

Gahan may sing with a robotic intonation, but it never feels like anything he says is half–arsed, especially on Clean. His sonorous confession of addiction feels all the more devastating when you realise how close he came to death not long after the album’s release.

The most well–known song off the album is Personal Jesus, which can either be read as a salute to ever–trusting friendships, or as an examination of unhealthy fixations within relationships. There’s a Halloween feel to it, with harsh keyboards punctuated with screeching guitar; it wouldn’t feel out of place on an Oingo Boingo album. Whatever way you read it, Personal Jesus is an excellent marching anthem, blessed with a hook that will be drummed onto every car dashboard, for now and forever.

Love and obsession are often entwined in an awkward ball of string. The subjects of many of the songs, in particular Halo, are often treated with a reverence, placed on a pedestal. Some many find this troubling, but I find it an honest window into how many intense romances play out. And though it is infinitely less mopey, Auden’s The More Loving One comes to mind:

If equal affection cannot be
Let the more loving one be me.

Whilst this mantra seems to be the party line, there is (thankfully) a balance. If Personal Jesus is the creepy love song, then Enjoy the Silence is the beautiful one, an ode to the comfortability of not having to say anything within the confines of genuine love. It is a curiously empowering song that remains my favourite on the album, and one that I can rely on to bring me back to reality when times are rough.

There is an intoxicating feel to Violator­; as if one man’s gloom is pouring over you, but not enough to drag you down with him. It’s a chant that validates your wavering happiness and can make grasping the duvet after a break–up (or all manner of other unspecified miseries) become a cathartic experience. It taps into the weeping adolescent in all of us, where sadness can be a grandiloquent display, and also a therapeutic release.

It’s been 25 years since Violator was released, and unlike some of Depeche Mode’s other releases, such as the proto–industrial People are People or the infuriating Just Can’t Get Enough, the songs on Violator have not been affected by the dusty punches of Father Time. It serves as the evolution between the gothic sub–cultures of the 1980s, and the screeching dirges of the 1990s. Here, Depeche Mode essentially act as a suited up predecessor to Trent Reznor (and sounds better for it.)

So, if you’re looking for classics you may have missed the first time round, I cannot recommend the dirge and dance of Violator enough.

– Adam Hofmeister, 18/08/15

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