CLASSIC ALBUMS REVISITED: Depeche Mode – ‘Violator’ 30 Years Later

Just the other day, I used the Instagram filter “What Goth Band Are You?” and victoriously was labeled Depeche Mode. Though I strive to be dark, brooding, emotive, sexy, and mysterious, I feel it’s best left to the professionals to truly embody and exhibit such traits, and there is no finer example than electronic rock/synth-wave masters, Depeche Mode. Thirty years ago today (March 19, 1990), Dave Gahan, Martin Gore, Andy Fletcher, and Alan Wilder gifted the world their seventh studio album, Violator (Mute Records) and today, we look back in celebration and appreciation of a record that pushed boundaries, created timeless classics, and explored sex, desire, hedonism, and other ‘taboo’ topics (with a pinch of religion).

For anyone who saw Depeche Mode’s recent rockumentary, Spirits in the Forest, it is obvious how the band and their album Violator, in particular, affected music and die-hard fans alike. In contrast to prior releases like their peppy and bubbly singles, ‘Just Can’t Get Enough,’ and ‘People are People,’ that brought initial success to the group, Depeche Mode’s sound took a journey down a darker path with albums like Black Celebration and Music For The Masses, arriving at Violator that pushed Depeche Mode to a triple platinum level and international acclaim. It was the first of their albums to enter the top 10 of the Billboard 200, landing in #7, and remaining in the charts for 74 weeks.

As history tells it, one day after the album dropped, a huge crowd of 20,000+ fans shut down a small section of Los Angeles surrounding a record store where the group was conducting a signing. The Depeche Mode faithful pushed on the shop’s glass windows, crushing fans against it, and ultimately cost the city some $25,000 to disperse 130 policemen in riot gear to subdue the band’s excited followers. Several fans were injured and the band issued an apology in the form of a limited edition cassette tape. Although this incident is just one of many music-induced riots in the history of modern music, it’s no surprise that Violator was at the root. Hits and favorites like pulsating and sinister goth anthem, ‘Personal Jesus,’ sensual and hypnotizing would be enough to drive anyone into a frenzy. Aside from the radio hits, Violator birthed a track listing of dark, electro-rock masterpieces, including pleasure-seeking ‘Sweetest Perfection,’ and longing and dreamy ‘Halo’ that seamlessly segues into the tranquile ‘Waiting for the Night.’ Appropriately slinky ballad ‘Blue Dress’ and minimalistic and eerie ‘Clean’ finish the album in a cinematic fade-to-black fashion, preparing listeners for the next chapter of an enchanting yet haunting lust story.

To this day, Violator’s top singles consistently receive airplay, have innumerous cover versions, are massive karaoke favorites, and offer us all a soundtrack to our kinkier side. Whether or not you’re a fan of Depeche Mode, one can’t deny their impact of the 2020 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees on their formative era and beyond as well as subsequent artists in their genre and music overall. Violator is a prime example of a band experimenting and searching for something novel, and from that, creating something that will stand the test of time.

MEIJIN BRUTTOMESSO