Monday, January 28, 2008

No. 342: Violator

Band: Depeche Mode
Album: Violator
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Depeche Mode's seventh album was the band's biggest seller and best album. The culmination of their keyboard bleeps and Dave Gahan's baritone was released in 1990 and speaks to a real romantic side. Two of the three singles are considered singles and the record contains other fantastic songs.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: The great songs may be great, but most of the regular, non-album songs are just OK.
Best song: "World in my Eyes," "Enjoy the Silence," "Personal Jesus" and "Policy of Truth" are all great.
Worst song: "Clean" isn't great.
Is it awesome?: Yes, absolutely.

Two stories about this album:

1. The small suburb where I grew up was not wired for cable TV until I was in the fifth grade (the fall of 1989). I knew of cable TV (in my case, MTV and Nickelodeon) only from my cousins' houses, some friends and my father's office. When cable came to Northfield, two of the first videos I knew from MTV were "Personal Jesus" and "Enjoy the Silence." I remember mostly that "Personal Jesus" was a weird concept and something I wasn't totally comfortable with (I was a very small religious Jewito at the time). I also remember thinking that "Enjoy the Silence" was a weird video, with Dave Gahan carrying a lawn chair around while wearing a crown:

I later found out that this was some sort of allusion to "The Little Prince," a book I still have not read.

2. Between my junior and senior years of college, I interned at WXRT, one of the best commercial radio stations in America. One of my jobs at the station was to answer voice mails from the listener line. The listener line was mostly just people asking about songs XRT had on the station's heavy playlist. Most of the time this was easy; XRT is still a commercial station (so a heavily-played song is still played, like 50 times a week) and if the listener wasn't totally stupid, we could figure it out. Also, I have a decent knowledge of the station's playlist -- the XRT DJs played a lot of classic rock -- so I had a working knowledge of the songs the listeners asked about.

Anyway, I remember very clearly a listener asking about what he called a "psychedelic-sounding" song with a "reach out and touch me" chorus. Despite being a fan of "Violator," I got stuck on the "psychedelic" aspect of the dude's comment. It took me almost an hour before I realized, "Hey, wait, 'reach out and touch faith. Depeche Mode! Ah..." So, I called the dude back and sent him down the right path.

The song is pretty great. The conceit of the record, that celebrity could make someone into a fan's personal messiah, was influenced heavily by Elvis and Priscilla Presley's relationship. The song's guitar/drum thump is the hallmark of the song's appeal, though. Sounding like something a cowboy would produce while on LSD, the guitar's twang swings like a woman shaking her hips. Not surprisingly, the song is very popular at strip clubs.

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