Tag Archives: alan wilder

Faithful And Devoted book review – Depeche Mode, the world we live(d) in, and life in general

Faithful And Devoted could be about any band, not just Depeche Mode.

The book’s author, Jenna Rose Robbins, could have been a Nirvana fan (another of 1993’s high-profile acts), or a follower of Smashing Pumpkins, Blur or Pearl Jam.

The premise could also be the same – young, slightly obsessive fan heads off to Europe to follow her chosen idols for a few weeks; gets into a few scrapes; learns a lot about herself along the way; and, for the most part, has a great time.

This is the scenario that many of us have either dreamed of or have experienced in some way over the years.

(I caught four gigs in seven days during the chilly UK December of the Devotional Tour in 1993. Rather disappointingly, they were nowhere near as incident-packed as the trio of gigs in the earlier scorching Spanish summer for Robbins)

Still, Faithful And Devoted is centred on Depeche Mode and one fan’s wonderful recollection of a jaunt across the Iberian peninsula.

The fact that the American author’s trip coincides with the infamous Songs of Faith and Devotion-era Depeche Mode, rather than, say, Delta Machine-era Depeche Mode, gives you a bit of an idea as to where some of her adventures go.

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As Johnny Black later wrote in Q magazine in 1998, Depeche Mode, in 1993 and 1994, were spearheading the “most debauched tour ever”.

But a note of warning: readers who are expecting a warts-and-all exposé of the shenanigans that went on should put their desire for gossip to one side – Robbins has penned a much more important and heartfelt piece of work than that.

Sure, you’ll read about her alcohol-fuelled exchanges with Alan Wilder (her youthful adoration increases with each gig and meeting), Dave Gahan’s champagne-swilling and Martin Gore’s hypnotic dancing at techno clubs.

But this isn’t really a book about how she plotted and contrived (with her Spanish pen-pal) to meet Depeche at their notorious after-show parties (with one being a particularly wild and memorable night at a nightclub in Madrid following their gig at the city’s bullring).

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Instead, Robbins has cleverly used Depeche Mode and the three gigs in Spain (starting at Pontevedra, ending five days later in Barcelona) to be the background narrative for other things.

She covers growing up, leaving home, the relationship with her parents (in particular, her father), the expectations and experimental phases of being young, travelling and being in a new country, and of course, being a fan of a band.

Robbins is a terrific storyteller (as well as a shining example of why keeping a detailed journal can be so rewarding, especially at that age) and manages to balance the Depeche Mode elements with the personal elements of her tale extremely well, alongside being funny, nostalgic and poignant in equal measures throughout.

Some fans will read Faithful And Devoted through rose-tinted spectacles, perhaps remembering fondly the era when Depeche Mode were certainly wilder, infinitely more accessible and, well, young (the third item on this link is TimeOut’s review of the same gig in Madrid).

Yet everyone grows up (including Robbins and her idols).

Her book is a snapshot of a young person’s life – when we begin to understand what matters and what doesn’t, with Depeche Mode being a soundtrack to it all.

  • Many thanks to Robbins for the advance review copy of her book.
  • Faithful And Devoted is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle formats.

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Ten reasons to celebrate Violator

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.

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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.

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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!).

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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.

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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 Cobijn, 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.

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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.

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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, half way through the tour.

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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.

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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 😉

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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.

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11) … and one extra, final thought, 25 years on

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 played now, in 2015, 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 in Violator‘s 25th year.

But, unfortunately, a thing called “real life” – health and the day job – conspired against me.

The former, courtesy of an operation and the subsequent recovery period over the course of the first few months of 2016, meant that its release was pushed back again.

I am extremely sorry about that.

Apologies again x

NB: All pictures are from the official Depeche Mode wallpaper page.

A Policy Of Truth – Royal Albert Hall was more than just about Alan Wilder

Let’s face it, you will not get through this week without every Depeche Mode fan on the planet talking about a certain gig a few years ago.

And quite rightly, of course!

Depeche played at the Royal Albert Hall in London on Wednesday 17 February 2010 to lend their support to the annual Teenage Cancer Trust series of concerts.

(Read about our own commitment to this wonderful charity)

The gig has since gone down in Depeche folklore for one thing: the return of Alan Wilder after 16 years to play the piano for Martin Gore as he sang Somebody during the encore.

The noise which greeted Wilder after he sauntered on-stage and was introduced by Gore was astonishing, even “up in the gods” of the famous old hall where I was standing.

It would be safe to say that the audience, after the shock of seeing Wilder sharing a platform with his old cohorts, cheered and cried during the next few minutes as he and Gore worked their way through a song they’ve performed together hundreds of times.

It was a “special moment”, Dave Gahan mused to the crowd with a fair slab of understatement minutes later.

The “Alan” moment obviously overshadowed the rest of the gig for most Depeche fans.

But even without Wilder’s brief reunion, Depeche’s now legendary Royal Albert Hall gig was a memorable night.

It was the first time the band had played at the iconic venue and the gig came just ten days before the end of the Tour Of The Universe shows.

The party atmosphere which was building during the evening only increased further when The Who’s Roger Daltrey made a speech about the work of the Teenage Cancer Trust and then introduced the band on-stage.

There were many memorable moments during the set, not least when the by-then customary balloons appeared during a rousing rendition of Policy of Truth.

For those of us brought up on seeing thousands of red poppies rain down on British servicemen and women during the annual and mostly sombre festival of remembrance each year, seeing brightly coloured balloons bounce around on the heads of the delirious crowd was both poignant and joyous.

Never Let Me Down Again was incredible for all the usual reasons, whilst the string ensemble for Home and One Caress created an appropriate connection between Depeche and a venue more used to hosting orchestral evenings.

But, still, maybe it was just all about “Alan” :).

On this day – Enjoy The Silence, 25 years on

Personal Jesus grabbed the attention of fans and many others in the summer of 1989.

But it was the release of Enjoy The Silence on February 5th 1990 that REALLY made people sit up and listen.

Enjoy The Silence, arguably more than any other track on Violator, was the personification of the new, fresh-sounding Depeche Mode, with Flood and an increasingly influential Alan Wilder behind the scenes (the latter turning the track from a simple ballad into the signature dance track it is now).

The song – the second single from Violator – had been widely trailed for a few months (including at this appearance of Peter’s Pop Show in December 1989), but the official release saw it capture levels of radio play that arguably the band hadn’t manage to achieve for years.

Plenty more to come in the HALO book – we just think it’s worth highlighting the release of Enjoy The Silence today 🙂

Long forgotten B-side My Joy is the sound of an era

Here is something to ponder, over a tea/coffee/beer.

Depeche, everyone will agree, had for many years been cultivating a certain “sound”, long before Violator.

Darker, more atmospheric.

But when producer Flood entered the fray for the Violator recording sessions in 1989, in tandem with Alan Wilder, something started to happen.

There was also an obvious move away from sampling everything (or anything) that moved to get a different tone for a melody or soundscape (Pipeline on Construction Time Again in 1983 is perhaps the best example).

Flood challenged the band to do away with their old rules, such as never using the same sound twice.

As Andy Fletcher famously remarked later on: “We were running out of sounds… big time!”

If there was a certain Depeche “style ” before, the Flood-Wilder axis of creativity led to a distinctive “sound” heard first on Violator and again on Songs of Faith and Devotion.

There are clearly more “natural” sounds (guitar, percussion, etc) and orchestral arrangements added to Martin Gore’s songs.

Still, I got into a discussion about this during one of the recent series of interviews for HALO.

Someone suggested that perhaps a now long forgotten track from 1993 actually encapsulates that Flood-Wilder “sound” perfectly.

My Joy was the b-side from Walking In My Shoes, the second single from Songs of Faith and Devotion, released in April of that year.

Elements such as the soaring strings, guitar riff, percussion, backing vocal arrangement from Martin – each could easily have been borrowed in from parts of World In My Eyes, Halo, Policy Of Truth, Walking In My Shoes, In Your Room, Get Right With Me, Nitzer Ebb’s Come Alive (which Wilder remixed)… and all pulled into one track.

The sound of an era, all fused into one?

What do you think?

It remains, personally, one Depeche’s best b-sides and we can only lament that it never saw the light of day at a gig.

NB: Mountains via Pixelbay.

HALO, Teenage Cancer Trust and that brief Alan Wilder reunion

We will be donating 10% of the proceeds from the sale of HALO to the Teenage Cancer Trust.

More details about why we are doing this here.

It’s an important and wonderful cause to support, not least because Depeche Mode also backed the organisation at the Royal Albert Hall charity concert in London in February 2010.

We included a video of the venue-rattling Alan Wilder-Martin Gore-Somebody moment on the page.

But here is an interview with Alan recorded a few days later at the UK capital’s O2 arena, when he attended his first Depeche concert “as a punter”.

Coming alive to a Depeche-esque Nitzer Ebb

Coming almost immediately after the end of the Violator phase, Alan Wilder flexed his producer muscles (alongside Flood) when he produced Ebbhead, Nizter Ebb’s fourth album.

A few months ahead of its release in September 1991, Nitzer Ebb released the As Is teaser EP, a quartet of tracks with the third – Come Alive – mixed by Wilder (only a re-jigged Family Man eventually featured on the actual Ebbhead album.).

Come Alive is classic Wilder orchestration and pretty much captures the “sound” Depeche had at the time.

(Pretty intense video, too)