This is not a review, nor a professional opinion. These are my own personal thoughts, as to why Depeche Mode’s Eight album “Songs of Faith and Devotion” is my favorite musical album.
Eight seconds of one of the nosiest, most excruciating howling feedback sound, is the beginning of a magnum opus, a masterpiece of musical composition, might I add. An album that manages to reflect it’s images and name through very subdued, and harsh rhythmic patterns. Sound patterns that are difficult to grasp from the first listen, but are surely a spectacle form of music once you get used to it’s hard synthesizer sounds, and heavy rock element.
The album itself is a drastic change from the band’s previous work, as they’re mostly famous for being one of the most notable Synth Pop bands in the world. It was an album that had to surpass the success of Violator, their previous album.
Violator is a spectacular record, one that managed to successfully get Depeche Mode into mainstream success all over the world, with tracks such as Personal Jesus, Policy of Truth, World in my eyes, and the very popular single, Enjoy the silence, the band has managed to set a landmark for their work, and be known solely for this album as their best work. A record with a spectacular track-list that caters for almost everyone’s taste.
But i’m not here to talk about Violator. Instead, I want to talk about it’s follow up, Songs of Faith and Devotion.
Depeche Mode always liked to experiment with different styles of music in order to express their artistic visions, but also always stuck to their roots of Synthpop. Almost all of their past records felt very programmed, with lots of separate sample sounds that played on specific beats. In a sense, they’re like a single beat that keeps progressing with new synths or guitar sounds on a moving bar. It keeps on building up, till it reaches it’s climax in a barrage of sounds. A great example of that is Never Let Me Down Again, and Behind The Wheel from their sixth album, Music For The Masses.
Songs of Faith and Devotion is more natural, it feels like actual performances with actual instruments, followed by hard and dark electronic synths. It has a more characteristic sound, an explicit one, followed by a very distinctive visual identity.
The band themselves have admitted more than once, that it was the hardest and longest record to make, because it was something very new and refreshing in the sense of how they used to record a new album, and at the same time, entering a new territory of music, as the album felt more like a goth-rock album, rather than a Synthpop one. A complete rethink of the Depeche Mode ethos.
The sheer amount of pressure on the band to make a record that would surpass Violator, is what lead them to make something totally new and fresh. Violator 2.0 wasn’t the goal here, but catching up with the times, and making something proper for the current scene was. That lead to the making of a record that shared one single atmosphere, vision, identity, and sound, while maintaining a distinctive touch with every track. All of the songs had the vibe, a vibe that tied them all together. A more personal record, than a commercial one.
In this blog post, i’ll only talk about six tracks from the album, ones that I think stand out as the most distinctive, but this by no means say anything about the other tracks. I personally believe this is a perfect album from start to finish, and everyone should give it a try.
right from the beginning with the first track, I feel You, you can sense the huge dissension from their old sound. It starts of with a noisy feedback sound that cuts to a heavy sounding guitar riff, followed by Gahan’s distinctive vocal sound, but this time around, it’s stretched, and it’s more rock sounding than ever. The clear sound of drums in the chorus, and the background choir are unexpected, and just shows how natural and authentic sounding the song is, unlike the previous programmed ones (They’re still superb). The electronic synths are also there, but are overshadowed by the more natural sound of the guitar and drums, and the noise feedback makes an appearance every now and then throughout the track, endorsing the artistic side of the album’s vision of faith and devotion in people; distorted
Walking In My Shoes’s soulful organ-like beginning gives a very Gothic but soothing sound, a straight sharp hook that catches your attention. It’s not as harsh sounding as I feel you, then the drums and the heartbeat sounding bass kick in, giving a better insight on the tone of the track. It maintains this stable soulful sound as the vocals start, with lyrics that feels like talking about redemption and salvation, and within the backgrounds, you can hear nodes of hi-fi patterns. By the time the song reaches the bridge, you hear the sound of an additional loop. different from the one in the first verse, as the distorted guitar sound plays, which leads to the chorus that brings a complete different drum sound and rhythm, alongside great backup singing, and Gothic piano tones. The distorted wailing and guitar sound by the end of the song also gives a strong sense of an edgy tone that transitions seamlessly with the core tone of the song. It’s strong, spectacular, engrossing, and often considered the best song in the album.
Another part of what makes Walking In My Shoes special, is it’s visual representation, as it’s based on Dante’s Divine Comedy, and the it’s message of “Don’t judge without going through what people do”
It’s represented through the character on the video and it’s art work, as an outcast, who’ll keep on walking on his shoes, avoiding the judgments, and preferring being with someone of his kind.
Condemnation is the high point of vocal performance in the album, it’s the Gahan’s most angst ridden vocals. they’re filled with pain, regret, and suffering. It sounds like a dark church hymn, with backup humming, slow motion unsteady piano sounds, and drums. It’s the least diverse song I would say, alongside Judas, yet it manages to deliver a strong gospel like sound that engraves itself in your mind, especially with the repetitive humming at the end of the song.
The darkest of them all: In Your Room (Studio Version) kicks off with a dark and ominous bass drums, followed with a ghastly hymn, and a single distorted string of a guitar. “…Will you let the morning come soon?” Sings Gahan, as a choir sound appears, and the tempo changes, with a distorted guitar sound on each line that’s sung. “Your favorite slave” He stretches, as a striking powerful synth sound vibrates from your speakers! creating an unimaginable atmosphere, alongside the potent and dirty drums that kicks in as the song truly starts. They stick together through the entirety of the song, building up the great chorus, and the most sensational crescendo.
Rush falls under the same area of I feel You, it’s bombastic right from the beginning, with gritty drums, and dark bass synth. It doesn’t take much time to build itself up, it immediately introduces the bashing vocals, alongside bizarre wailing sounds, on a consistent rate. The bridge brings back the distorted guitar sound, as it leads to the unexpected, yet extremely satisfying three-part chorus, and the dirty sounding synth after it. Half way through the track, it slows down heavily, with Gahan’s voice sounding ghastly, and rested, it builds the tension, putting expectations on the sound of the heavy guitar, with the noisy feedback sound that leads to the once again bombastic synth of the after chorus and the drums. It keeps on going, till the song fades out.
Higher Love ends the album with a proper atmosphere swell, a very spiritual sound. It’s the most electronic focused track in the album, complementing Violator by going for the electronic feeling, yet maintaining the same atmosphere of Songs of Fate and Devotion. It’s a great farewell to such an amazing album, that follows the tonal narrative of the entire album.
Of course the other tracks in the album are also great, and each one also unique, like One Caress, which sounds like a ballad, sung by Martin Gore, instead of David Gahan.
After the record was released, the tour followed, and it’s one of the most atmospheric world tours, with a stage designed specifically to go with the album’s visual identity, and dark ominous lighting and setting. That is shown perfectly in the filmed performance of the tour by the name of “Devotional” where you can see the authenticity of how pure the performances are, and better sounding than the studio. It’s filled with passion, celerity, and it’s definitely worth watching. The video below shows the live performance of Walking In My Shoes.
In conclusion, Songs of Faith and Devotion is a spiritual album that is often misspoke of because of it’s harsh and dark nature, and it’s departure from previous works, but SOFAD is a unique record of dark driven music, with a distinctive style, and personality.
For those interested in the process of the album, and how difficult it was to make, you can watch it Here.
Until next time…