We share ten reasons why the Violator period is worth celebrating.
1) The songs
Whilst Martin Gore had written many fantastic songs up until this point, many would agree that even the two previous albums – Black Celebration and Music For The Masses – had contained a few weaker tracks. Violator was arguably the first long-player to have a full complement of wonderful songs, illustrating a maturing in his writing which probably helped inspire the later studio production on the demos.
2) Production dream team
The appointment of Mark “Flood” Ellis to produce the album is now considered an inspired move, not least because he was personally keen to marry the electronic background of Depeche with more natural instruments. But he was not instrumental in pushing this change and creating the Violator (and Songs of Faith and Devotion) sound – his ideas, coupled with working closely alongside Alan Wilder, gave Violator a depth and texture which both surprised and excited the critics but captured a legion of new fans.
3) Vocal performance(s)
Dave Gahan turned in a string of brilliant lead vocals, especially on the low-key Waiting For The Night and the powerful closer, Clean. But elsewhere the harmonies and backing vocals were more intricate than ever before, such as Gore’s on the WFTN and the chorus for Halo (listen closely!).
4) Inspired bravery
Depeche had always taken risks with their music (the heavy sampling on Construction Time Again and Some Great Reward), but with Violator they were pushed creatively by a combination of Flood’s enthusiasm and because Gore’s demos were deliberately stripped down to the bare bones. This gave Flood and Wilder the opportunity to shape the songs in different ways and push the boundaries of the Depeche sound. Turning Enjoy The Silence from what was already a great ballad on the demo into a dance track is a prime example.
5) Anton Corbijn’s handiwork
A look and feel which the band had wanted for years finally came together across all the output associated with Violator. Spearheaded by Dutch photographer Anton Corbijn, Violator‘s famous rose encapsulates the entire period, but it is just one of many symbolic visual moments. Take your pick – the cheeky video for Personal Jesus; monarch-like Gahan’s trudge across various landscapes with a deckchair for Enjoy The Silence; and countless black and white, grainy photos.
6) Francois Kevorkian’s magic
Wilder’s urging that the record be remixed by one of world’s premier dance DJs and producers added yet another layer to the overall sound of Violator. Francois Kevorkian’s approach may have frustrated some of the band members (“pedantic”), but his work on all but one of the songs (Enjoy The Silence was mixed by Daniel Miller) cleverly managed to retain the electronic heartbeat of the band but without losing the newly introduced rockier elements (Personal Jesus‘s guitar, Halo‘s beat). Listen carefully (perhaps loudly, if you can) to the percussion on World In My Eyes to get a sense of his intricate work.
7) Singles selection
Many have argued that at Halo, Waiting For The Night and Clean could easily have been granted single status on Violator, but the eventual four that were released illustrates a deft understanding by the band and MUTE boss Daniel Miller for what would work at the time. Personal Jesus was an obvious first single, announcing to the world that Depeche was back – and with a bang. Releasing Enjoy The Silence just six weeks ahead of the album served to further heighten expectations. Policy Of Truth is simply a great and catchy song and World In My Eyes (the latter with a concert-filmed video) came just at the right time, halfway through the tour.
8) Global domination via World Violation
The tour that followed the release of Violator, like the Devotional Tour of 1993, has achieved a certain hallowed status over the years – but for different reasons. Whilst Devotional was debauched and chaotic, World Violation was both a glorious celebration of a decade for the band but also the chance to air the tracks from Violator, many of which were reworked from the album versions to great effect (the extended version Enjoy The Silence in particular). But the main reason the tour has become somewhat legendary with fans is because of “I was there” factor, triggered in part because no full concert video was ever released.
9) Marketing muscle
The release of Violator came with a series of events that can only have helped to attract wider attention to the band. To some degree was the activity around the release of Personal Jesus in September 1989 (“pick up the receiver”, dial a number to hear the song), but the now legendary in-store signing in Los Angeles on the eve of the album’s release, which triggered a “riot” outside amongst fans, could not have been engineered any better. Or maybe it was part of the strategy all along 😉
10) Positively uplifting
Flood later said the mood around the Depeche camp can be felt throughout Violator, in the same way, that the problems that materialised within the band during the making of Songs of Faith and Devotion created a dark, brooding, downbeat record. The uplifting opener of World In My Eyes sets the scene for the rest of the record. Violator has a wonderfully optimistic feel about it – sonically showcasing a band who probably realised very early on in the process of making Violator that they were creating something special and unique.
11) … and one extra, final thought…
What is remarkable about Violator is how fresh it sounds, even a quarter of a century later. Classic albums are lauded for numerous reasons, but often the music has not stood the test of time – many records just happened to be important at a particular period in the evolution of music. Violator is different because it can be played now, in 2021, and still feel like it was recorded yesterday. The songs are wonderfully timeless and the quality of the arrangements and production unsurpassed.
Let’s face it – very few bands, both then and now, have managed to create something that sounds as relevant and brimming with quality as Violator.
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Before anyone asks… In an ideal world, the Halo book would’ve been published by now.
But, unfortunately, a thing called “real life” – health, pandemics and the day jobs – continue to conspire.
Sorry about that.
Apologies again x
NB: All pictures are from the official Depeche Mode wallpaper page.