Depeche Mode "Violator" (Mute Records, 1990)

Violator marked the end of Depeche Mode's first decade, which was all about making perfect synthesizer music for the masses, and which distinguished itself from other recordings by a more daring use of samples and a more sinister tone. While they played guitars on occasion before (for example in 1987's "Behind the wheel"), Violator used them more regularly. It is also their last album that featured big hit singles, with the following few single successes probably based rather on the band's popularity (e.g. "Dream on"). The following albums also seemed to refrain from the pop music formula that established their huge rise to success in the 80s.

Note that I reviewed the original release and not the 2006 re-release with a new sound mix.

World in my Eyes The fourth and weakest single from the album. There's actually nothing really bad about this song, but nothing really good either. For a great album like this one would expect a more spectacular opener, but obviously DM prefered to build momentum slowly. At the end the song garners some attention by increasingly dramatic strings. 7.0

Sweetest Perfection Martin Gore sings, and he never sounded so beautifully strange before. They start with little beat and a Violator typical slap bass and add spheric guitar and synthesizer sounds. Compositionwise the song is mediocrity compared to what Gore is able to do. Ends up with a nice chaotic finale. 7.5

Personal Jesus The first Violator single and a Depeche Mode classic, even though this song was very untypical for the band and techno pop in general at that time. While synthesizers are used sparingly, percussions and a guitar take the lead alongside Dave's charismatic singing. And Martin's panting. Obviously a blue print for OMD's "Sailing on the seven Seas" and an excellent choice for cruising along Los Santos. 9.5

Halo Back than I expected this one to be the fourth single. Most Violator songs start pretty minimal and become more intense bit by bit. Halo is the perfect example for that, with a terrific chorus and fitting background vocals by Martin Gore. A hidden Depeche Mode jewel! 9.0

Waiting for the Night Something calm for a change with hypnotical synthiesounds. While the chorus lulls you into sweet dreams, the verses suggest a nightmare. It sounds simpler on the surface than it actually is. 7.5

Enjoy the Silence The best argument held against Trevor Horn productions: A song does not have to be overlaid to death with tons of tracks and reverbs to become a major hit. It is that simple, yet incisive production that is characteristic for the whole album. It makes it so distinctive that even DM were not able (or willing?) to reach that level again. 9.5

Policy of Truth After being crucified with an interlude we are directly thrown into the third single, which is stylistically located somewhere between the first and the fourth. The song lives from its powerful hook line that trails a lazy guitar chord. The sample choices are very grotesque and give an average pop song a special flair. 8.0

Blue Dress Is it just me or are the ballads on Violator not as strong as on other DM albums? They try hard to gain interest with a piano, guitar and strange beats. But it leaves the impression of being the unloved second Gore ballad that lacks inspiration. 6.5

Clean In my opinion the most gripping song on Violator. Dave really gives it all here and shows a brilliant performance until the grand finale. This song pounds itself into your brain and presents an excellent finish. In retrospect though the positive message turned out to be premature. 8.5

[Artwork] Typical stilish and sinister design with Corbijn photography, not of the band, but a rose. You even get the song lyrics. Not much more you can ask for. 8.5

Conclusion For my money the best Depeche Mode record so far. All songs have a specific tone, a production style that is subtle in instrumentation but full of impact. 17 years after its release the record still sounds fresh and even innovative. It has pop hits and secret treasures and even the weaker songs fit in the full picture perfectly. Overall Rating: 8.15

April 2007