Depeche Mode - Songs of Faith and Devotion
The “World Violation” concerts saw Depeche Mode circle the globe on a massive tour that left them exhausted and thoroughly sick of each other. Not for the first time, many within the band thought that the time had come to call it a day, and at the very least a lengthy holiday was called for. Once the tour was finished, the band went their separate ways, barely able to tolerate each other. Dave Gahan moved to America, where he moved in with his new partner, divorcing his wife in the UK.
However, the separation did not stop Martin Gore from writing, and he set to work on songs for album number eight. Dave Gahan originally was not interested in any more recordings, but changed his mind when he heard the demos. What he heard was a different, bluesy sound, more organic and guitar based with confessional lyrics that he felt really talked into his situation. For the first time in his life, he was under the misapprehension that Gore was actually writing for him. In fact, his life was in such a mess, due to greater drug dependency, it is easy to see why he was under such an illusion, especially when you hear the lyrics.
Therefore, the band made the decision to record in France, again with producer Flood, who previously worked on Violator. Recordings took place in a remote location, in a residential studio that also had two cottages. Andy Fletcher and Martin Gore took up residence in one cottage, with Flood, Alan Wilder and Dave Gahan in the other.
Recording was not successful. At the end of the sessions, Flood vowed never to work with the band again, such was the tension. Most of this was due to a clash in the band as to how the album should sound. Gahan had been listening to a lot of Janes Addiction, and wanted a harder, more “rock” sound, which would allow him as front man to shine. Gore preferred the more electronic approach, something more akin to their previous album. The pressure though to produce a successor to such a huge album was massive. How could they follow what was considered by many to be the zenith of their career?
Again, the vast bulk on the work was levelled on Alan Wilder’s shoulders, working huge hours to get the job done. To him though, this was preferable. Back at the cottage, Dave Gahan would amuse himself with a guitar and an amp, generating as much feedback as he could to relax. Gahan decorated his room with candles and drapes, preferring to spend his time painting rather than socialising with the rest of the band. Fletch and Gore would spend time playing Sega and getting drunk. The sessions were a disaster, with progress made on only half the album.
However, that which they finished showed enough promise for them to want to continue. Gahan completed his vocal for “Condemnation”, which stunned the production team in silence, Flood declaring it the best of the vocalist career. The band also spent time jamming together, something they had never done previously (non-musician Fletcher bashing flight cases). Wilder also got the chance to drum live. A decision was made to finish the album in London, the end result being a far more “rock” album than anyone could have expected – an organic piece with live drums, “guitar” sounding guitars, gospel choirs and a very heavy feel. At the same time though, there is a very distinct “Depeche” sound.
The album opens with “I Feel You”, a scorching track that sets up the album well, and a perfect first single. A driving lick moves the song forward, and Gahan’s vocal is majestic, soaring through the song, as drum pummel and guitars wail. Then into “Walking in my Shoes”, a song with lots of promise let down by poor production. Hip-hop beats swirl and shift beneath the melody, but you can’t help but feel that a much simpler arrangement would have suited this song better. The sound is mushy and smothering at times, Gore’s harmonies adding to the track but drowned out by the layers of unnecessary noise.
“Condemnation” follows, and Flood was right, Gahan’s vocal is very special here in indeed. A slow song, Wilder’s excellent piano and the thumping drums make this an atmospheric track where the real star is the vocal performance and the words, greatly enhanced by the gospel singers. The song is really allowed to breathe, a soulful performance full of passion.
“Mercy in You” and “Judas” are nothing special, particularly the former, a badly arranged song with a terrible chorus and even worse melody on the verses. “Judas” is sung by Gore, and again just plods along, descending into a more common bleeps and bloops at the end of the track. Side two opens with “In Your Room”, I feel a hugely overrated song, it is overblown and bloated, relying on a huge production to make up for the inadequacy of the music.
Then to a real highlight. “Get Right with Me” is a cracking song, with some of Gore’s best lyrics. A life-affirming, confessional song full of second chances, urging the listener to combat their demons and sort out their problems. The music is excellent; again gospel singers enhance the vocal track, but again Gahan is the real star, his voice never sounding better.
“Rush” is a pulsing, electronic track, until the pace of the track is ruined by an annoying plodding interlude, the arrangement to this song being almost totally identical to "Mercy in You". “One Caress” sees Gore backed by a string quartet, but the song sounds like filler and is nothing special. The album closer, “Higher Love”, is much better, a long, excellent arranged song, full of interesting ideas and a perfect way to end the LP.
There is every reason to praise this album. It would have been tempting for the band to just produce “Violator Part 2”, but with this they tried to take their sound in a whole new direction and for the most part, it works. It emulates rather than copies the bands Gahan was trying to pay tribute to, and a handful of tracks on this album are among the best of their career. It would also result in a massive tour, eclipsing everything the band had undertaken before, which is documented in their next release. A tour that would take the band to its very limits.