Depeche Mode are rightly celebrated for their music -- the chrome-plated robotic beats that scraped at the darkest edges of the synth-pop revolution. But there's a deep and often black heart beating beneath all of that. Like their music, Depeche Mode's lyrics take a cold, hard approach to life. Love songs are sex songs, and trust comes down to a matter of submission and domination. It's a common theme, as you'll see in our list of the 10 Best Depeche Mode Lyrics.
"Let me see you stripped down to the bone / Let me hear you crying just for me."
Like 'Master and Servant' (which appears elsewhere on our list of the 10 Best Depeche Mode Lyrics), 'Stripped,' from 1986's 'Black Celebration,' is all about domination and relationships. There's a fair amount of sadistic joy taken in from someone else's pain here. The lyrics are stripped too, never going too far beyond the sentiment expressed above. Which makes it all the more potent.
"You're punching and you're kicking and you're shouting at me / I'm relying on your common decency / So far it hasn't surfaced, but I'm sure it exists / It just takes a while to travel from your head to your fist."
The theme of Depeche Mode's breakthrough U.S. hit can be summed up in another line from the song ("I can't understand what makes a man hate another man"), but the above lyric rolls off Dave Gahan's lips like a guy who's just had them split open.
"I feel you / Your heart it sings / I feel you / The joy it brings / Where heaven waits, those golden gates and back again / You take me to and lead me through oblivion / This is the morning of our love / It's just the dawning of our love."
The abrasive music disguises what's going on at 'I Feel You''s core: It's pretty much a love song shoved through Depeche Mode's usual filter.
"The grabbing hands grab all they can, all for themselves / After all, it's a competitive world / Everything counts in large amounts."
So many of Depeche Mode's songs depend on the music, especially in the early days when they spent way more time programming their synths than writing lyrics. 'Everything Counts,' one of their earliest singles, hinges on both. It's all about the group's tentative first steps toward mainstream success and the compromises that were made along the way.
"I'll take you to the highest mountain / To the depths of the deepest sea / And we won't need a map, believe me / Let my body do the moving, and let my hands do the soothing."
One of the band's most sexually teasing songs, 'World in My Eyes' -- a single released from the great 'Violator' album -- doesn't hide its intentions. There's some attempt to tie the sexual and the spiritual -- "Nothing more than you can feel now / That's all there is," Gahan sings -- but this mostly about the body, not the soul.
"I would tell you about the things they put me through / The pain I've been subjected to / But the Lord himself would blush / The countless feasts laid at my feet, forbidden fruits for me to eat / But I think your pulse would start to rush / I'm not looking for absolution, forgiveness for the things I do / But before you come to any conclusions, try walking in my shoes."
Part glamour shot, part martyr slot, 'Walking in My Shoes' finds the band playing on two sides. Neither is very inviting, but as the song suggests, we're not judging.
"Words are spoken to be broken / Feelings are intense, words are trivial / Pleasures remain, so does their pain / Words are meaningless and forgettable."
Funny how a song that declares that "words are meaningless and forgettable" turns out to be one of Depeche Mode's very best. Like so many of the band's songs, 'Enjoy the Silence' -- written and recorded during their peak period -- doesn't obscure its message or value. It says so much by saying so little.
"It's a lot like life, this play between the sheets / With you on top and me underneath / Forget all about equality."
Like several other Depeche Mode songs (including 'Stripped,' which starts our list of the band's 10 best lyrics), 'Master and Servant' explores relationships from a far from equal point of view. It's no surprise that the group's brutally cold and harsh music would be the foundation of an equally rough worldview. Basically, 'Master and Servant' is all about people getting screwed in all sorts of situations.
'Never Let Me Down Again'
"I'm taking a ride with my best friend / I hope he never lets me down again / Promises me I'm as safe as houses as long as I remember who's wearing the trousers."
Yet another Depeche Mode song about domination in a relationship. This time it's not sexual and really doesn't hint at bigger issues than the one at hand, which is essentially two pals hitting the road, taking the world as it comes. But all is still not equal.
"Feeling unknown and you're all alone, flesh and bone by the telephone / Lift up the receiver, I'll make you a believer / Take second best put me to the test / Things on your chest you need to confess / I will deliver, you know I'm a forgiver / Reach out and touch faith."
The kicker is that very last line. But this song about religion and belief and putting trust in someone other than yourself pretty much sums up Depeche Mode's bleak outlook on humanity. It's cynical, spiteful and just a bit on the cruel side. But we wouldn't want them any other way.