Monday, June 25, 2007

Depeche Mode - Violator

Year: 1990
Genre: Post-Modern Underground

Highlight Tracks: "Enjoy The Silence", "Waiting For The Night", "Policy of Truth"

Does anyone remember Dave Kendall and his show Post-Modern MTV? It was aired on weeknights at 130am in the late 80's and early 90's and introduced a ton of great underground music to the nation. It was a reduced version of 120 Minutes which would air Sunday nights. Kendall was a dorky British bloke but he had wicked music taste. His show 120 Minutes would go on to become the launchpad for the 'alternative' music explosion after a few short years and he would be replaced as host by someone much grungier. While I have no problem with the grunge/alternative explosion, I always did prefer Post-Modern MTV because it never strayed from the music it covered and it went off the air rather than change with the times. Because of that it remains a perfect artifact for the music and time it represented.

I was introduced to a ton of bands on Post-Modern MTV and back in those pre-car-ownership, pre-internet days I had no access to genre resources like All Music Guide or even an underground record shop. So my solution when referring to these bands was to lump all them all together and call them 'post-modern underground'. A genre of my own devising that probably confused more people than it helped whenever I name-dropped it. After all these years I still consider the bands I found on that show to be in that special personalized genre. So since this is my music website, and I make the rules, I'm going to resurrect the genre name and use it first on this write-up.

I saw a Depeche Mode video on the first episode of Post-Modern MTV that I watched and then subsequently on just about every episode after. Kendall frigging loved Depeche Mode and soon after seeing his show so did I. To me they are the quintessential post-modern underground band.

Violator is a masterpiece of songcraft, electronic production, and atmosphere. In Depeche Mode lore it is rivaled only by Music for the Masses for best album. The two albums represent Depeche Mode at the height of their powers. Violator focuses on a minimalist electronic sound that is epic in its simplicity. Every electronic sound is isolated and amplified for maximum effect. This makes for a very clean sound that lets you really hear every single note. This is a success of the album that I think is often overlooked. The production zeros in on every note with laser clarity. There is never any noise or cross-chatter. Each note stands out and each note is perfect.

The production makes Violator one of the best electronic albums of all time. Building on this foundation of great, ground-breaking music the band then up the ante by injecting the album with a great emotional arc. Gore's lyrics and Gahan's vocals combine to take on the highs and lows of addiction, failed relationships, letting yourself down, hitting rock bottom, isolation, and fooling yourself into thinking you've worked through your problems. Emotionally it is a devastating album. But at the heart of it all you feel the narrator is a decent human being. The listener feels the narrator's pain and empathizes with him. The listener even roots for him to pull through his trials and tribulations. That kind of interaction with the listener makes Violator a phenomenal album experience.

Individually every song is extremely strong except for possibly "Blue Dress" which is necessary to wrap up the relationship sub-plot of the album but isn't really an exciting song in itself. What makes the other songs so excellent on their own is that each one is almost an archetype for the mood it represents. So if you want to feel the rush of the narrator's highs simply put on "World In My Eyes" or "Personal Jesus" and let fly. They make for great songs in the concert hall or the club. And if you're feeling vunerable, depressed, or strung-out then you are in luck because there are a plethora of songs here to comiserate with.

Finally "Enjoy The Silence" is one of the greatest songs ever written. It contains the emotional gamut of the album with a message of self-imposed isolation. It can be interpreted a hundred different ways but to me the song is really about knowing when you've got it good and getting the hell out while you still can. Reaching a moment of happiness or peace and escaping from the assault of society to preserve that moment for as long as you can.

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