Violator, released in 1990, is the seventh studio album by English Alternative Dance group Depeche Mode. Co-produced by New Order and U2 engineer Mark "Flood" Ellis (who was producing Nine Inch Nails' 1989 debut album at around the same time, thanks to the overlap in recording sessions), the album continues the Darker and Edgier brand of Synth-Pop that had defined the band's sound since 1983's Construction Time Again while also orienting it in a somewhat new direction hinting at what their work would later become, reducing the industrial influences and concurrently ramping up the Alternative Rock elements. Compared to the previous album, Violator offered a much more free-form composition and production style, with much more open-ended demo recordings and a general absence of pre-production, both of which enabled the musicians to attain a higher degree of creative freedom than on previous records.
The resulting album was an unprecedented commercial success, serving as Depeche Mode's mainstream Breakthrough Hit and turning the band into international superstars. The single "Enjoy the Silence" became a Top 10 hit in both the US and the UK, while the album as a whole peaked at No. 2 on the UK Albums chart and No. 7 on the Billboard 200— marking the band's first album to reach the top ten in the US— in addition to topping the charts in Belgium, France, Greece, and Spain. The album later went on to become the 17th best-selling album of 1990 in the US, the 39th best-selling album of the year in the UK, and the fifth best-selling album of the year in the entire European Union. Violator was later certified triple-platinum in the US, double-platinum in Canada, platinum in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, and Switzerland, and gold in the UK, Austria, and Sweden. Additionally, "Personal Jesus" became the highest selling 12" single on a Warner Music Group associated labelnote due to a combination of its release half a year before its parent album and the controversy surrounding its Blasphemous Boast-based ad campaign. As a sign of the band's newfound fame, a signing party in Los Angeles initially expected to bring in a few thousand people at most ended up drawing roughly 17,000. The album still continues to sell well to this day, having peaked at No. 22 on both the Polish Albums chart and the Billboard Top Dance/Electronic Albums chart in 2017.
Violator was also a hit among critics, ranking as one of the highest-reviewed Depeche Mode albums to this very day and placing at number 342 on the 2012 edition of Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time (later being bumped up to No. 167 on the 2020 revision), No. 444 on NME's similar list, and No. 390 on the 2020 edition of Acclaimed Music's dynamic list of the 3000 most critically lauded albums. Lead single "Personal Jesus" also ranked at number 368 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of all time and was voted by Q Magazine readers as being among the 100 greatest songs ever, and "Enjoy the Silence" won the award for "Best British Single" at the 1991 BRIT Awards. Violator has also maintained a consistent position among both fans and critics as Depeche Mode's best album and one of the best albums of The '90s (even if it didn't sound quite in line with the sounds that would dominate the rest of the decade). Additionally, Violator is considered one of the best albums from the brief cultural gray area between the end of The '80s and Nirvana's breakthrough in late 1991. Together with New Order's Technique from the previous year, Violator represented the peak of the first wave of alternative dance, with its two biggest acts at the time seeing greater levels of public prominence, commercial success, and critical acclaim than ever before or since.
Violator spawned four singles: "Personal Jesus", "Enjoy the Silence", "Policy of Truth", and "World in My Eyes". "Personal Jesus" marked Depeche Mode's sendoff to the 1980's, being their last material released during the decade, coming out on August 28, 1989.
- "World in My Eyes" (4:26)
- "Sweetest Perfection" (4:43)
- "Personal Jesus" (4:56)
- "Halo" (4:30)
- "Waiting for the Night" (6:07)note
- "Enjoy the Silence" (6:12)note
- "Policy of Truth" (4:55)
- "Blue Dress" (5:41)note
- "Clean" (5:32)
Reach out, trope faith:
- Audience Participation Song: "Personal Jesus" and "Enjoy the Silence" in concert.
- Being Good Sucks: "Policy of Truth":You'll see your problems multiplied
If you continually decide
To faithfully pursue
The policy of truth
- Blasphemous Boast: "Personal Jesus" is built around this trope, right down to the title.
- Dark Is Not Evil: "Waiting for the Night to Fall"I'm waiting for the night to fall
I know that it will save us all
When everything's dark
Keeps us from the stark reality
- Despair Gambit: The ambitious, short chorus of "World In My Eyes" features something similar to this, by convincing the one listening to the narrator that the situation is ending."That's all there is. Nothing more than you can feel/touch now, that's all there is."
- Epic Rocking: The 6:07 "Waiting for the Night", although "rocking" would be a very strong word for what is a quiet, gentle, atmospheric mood-piece. "Enjoy the Silence" also qualifies if one includes the hidden interlude.
- Everything Is an Instrument: The percussion track to "Personal Jesus" was created by recording the band members jumping on their instrument cases.
- Gratuitous Panning:
- The synth blips that serve as the rhythm track for "Waiting for the Night" jump between the left and right audio channels with each successive beat.
- The percussion section in "Blue Dress" features staccato synthesized drums that pan between audio channels with each subsequent hit, and they constantly drum in sextuplets. Those sensitive to directional shifts in sound may feel a bit dizzy when listening with headphones.
- The synth blips in "Interlude #3" gradually pan back and forth across the two audio channels.
- Fitting for a replication of a Pink Floyd song, "Clean" includes a bass that plays one rhythm from left-to-right throughout (almost) the entire track.
- Hidden Track: "Enjoy the Silence" and "Blue Dress" continue Depeche Mode's habit of including these, featuring follow-ups to the unlisted "Interlude #1" from Music for the Masses; like previously, the two "interludes" on Violator are sequenced as being part of the same track as the songs that directly precede them.
- Instrumentals: The two "Interlude" hidden tracks, barring a shout of "crucified!" in "Interlude #2".
- Intentionally Awkward Title: You don't call an album Violator and expect people to read it innocuously.
- Ironic Episode Title: Like Music for the Masses before it, the title for Violator was chosen specifically to invoke this trope, as explained by Martin Gore in a 1990 interview."We called it 'Violator' as a joke. We wanted to come up with the most extreme, ridiculously Heavy Metal title that we could. I'll be surprised if people will get the joke."
- Lighter and Softer:
- While the lyrics continue the dark, melodramatic, and sexually-driven tone established in 1984's Some Great Reward, the instrumentation on most songs is noticeably softer and rock-oriented compared to the industrial-influenced style of the band's albums from Construction Time Again to Music for the Masses.
- The opening track "World in My Eyes" is also much lighter in its subject matter than previous Martin Gore-penned Depeche Mode songs; Word of God describes it as "saying that love and sex and pleasure are positive things."
- Minimalistic Cover Art: A high-contrast image of a red rose against a black background, with the band name and album title in tiny logotypes.
- Mythology Gag: "Sweetest Perfection" reprises "To Have and to Hold".
- New Sound Album: Martin starts using guitars more often, the rest of the guys work in stronger dance beats, Mark "Flood" Ellis co-produces, and François Kervorkian engineers. Closer to the dance-rock style of Alternative Rock that groups like New Order and Big Audio Dynamite popularized.
- Non-Appearing Title:
- "Blue Dress", which holds the distinction of being the only straightforward example of this trope in a Martin Gore-penned song that isn't an instrumental.
- Played with on "Enjoy the Silence"; the title doesn't appear in the main song, but rather opens the hidden "Interlude #2 (Crucified)" that immediately follows it. The interlude is absent on the song's single release, playing this trope straight there.
- Not Christian Rock: "Personal Jesus" has little to do with the actual Jesus of Nazareth, mainly invoking the name as a metaphor for a partner in a romantic relationship.
- Sequel Song: "Blue Dress" appears to be one to "Something to Do" from Some Great Reward, featuring similar imagery of dresses; the line "put it on and don't say a word" that opens "Blue Dress" seems to further this by harking back to the line "I'd put your pretty dress on" that appears near the end of "Something to Do".
- The rhythmic breathing and parts of the drum part in "Personal Jesus" are sampled from "The Dreaming" by Kate Bush. Both tracks also reference religious imagery in their titles, with "Personal Jesus" referencing, well, Jesus (albeit metaphorically), and "The Dreaming" referencing a key concept in Aboriginal mythology.
- "Clean" quotes the opening bassline of "One of These Days" by Pink Floyd.
- In an inverse example, "Black Skinhead" by Kanye West features a percussion section audibly inspired by that of "Personal Jesus", particularly the latter's interlude of thumping cases and heavy breathing; a mashup of the two songs was featured in a trailer for Atomic Blonde to highlight the reference.
- Show, Don't Tell: The message behind "Enjoy the Silence", which can pretty much be summed up as "actions speak louder than words".
- Step Up to the Microphone: Martin sings lead on "Sweetest Perfection" and "Blue Dress".
- Stoic Spectacles: Andrew Fletcher donned these around the time of the album's release.
- Tyop on the Cover: Possibly. According to a (now-vanished) note on older versions of the band's website, track 5 was originally meant to be called "Waiting for the Night to Fall" but had the last two words of its title lopped off by printer error, on both the back cover and disc label, causing it to read as "Waiting for the Night"— a mistake subsequently retained on all releases of the album, including on streaming services. Alan Wilder, however, has stated this "fact" is "incorrect".
- Variant Cover: While both CD and LP copies feature an image of a red rose, the CD release's cover◊ zooms in on the upper half; LP copies and CD longboxes feature the rose in full, as pictured above.