‘Songs of Faith and Devotion’ – Looking Back on Depeche Mode’s Only No. 1 Album
It took Depeche Mode a decade to make the world-dominating album they’d been aiming for since the first synth squiggles of their debut record bounced out of speakers. They stumbled at first, checking in with zippy synth-pop singles buried in crushingly boring LPs. Several albums — and regrettable ‘80s haircuts — later, they finally nailed down a formula that was part alt-rock bluster, part synth-goth excess and part clubland beats.
Starting with 1986’s ‘Black Celebration,’ Depeche Mode began crafting albums that were just as interesting as their singles. With their seventh LP, 1990’s ‘Violator,’ they nailed it. The record not only became the group’s first Top 10 in the U.S., it’s come to be their black-mass masterpiece, a deeply brooding and kinda sexy electronic-music classic that still resonates today. But suddenly all the attention, fame and accolades came crashing down on the band. After having inched forward with their last three records, the crucial follow-up to their biggest-ever album was looming over their heads.
So they did what they thought a band on the move should do: They chipped away at the thing that made them famous, brooding synth-pop, and replaced it with something totally different – in this case, dirty, noisy, grimy guitars. It wasn’t totally unexpected, but it certainly wasn’t what fans had in mind after ‘Violator’ either. When ‘Songs of Faith and Devotion’ came out on March 22, 1993, it sounded like the bratty cousin of U2’s ‘Achtung Baby’: an abrasive work that ran decades-old art-rock through a modern-day filter.
The gamble paid off. ‘Songs of Faith and Devotion’ debuted at No. 1 (it’s Depeche Mode’s only album to reach the top). The first single, ‘I Feel You,’ cracked the Top 40 and made it to No. 1 on the modern-rock chart. Follow-up singles – ‘Walking in My Shoes,’ ‘Condemnation,’ ‘In Your Room’ – didn’t fare as well but all received some airplay. The tougher, more primal sound ultimately took its toll on the band, which started living a tougher, more primal lifestyle on the road during the massive world tour in support of the album. Singer Dave Gahan almost died of a drug overdose, and longtime synth player Alan Wilder quit. When Depeche Mode finally regrouped for 1997’s blah ‘Ultra,’ it became obvious that ‘Songs of Faith and Devotion’ had drained their soul. But they wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Watch Depeche Mode’s Video for ‘I Feel You’