Happy 25th Anniversary to Depeche Mode’s eighth studio album Songs of Faith and Devotion, originally released March 22, 1993.
For Depeche Mode, the years leading up to the recording and release of their 1993 album Songs of Faith and Devotion had been some of their best. Following on from the critical and commercial success of Music For The Masses (1987) and Violator (1990) the band had been riding a wave of increased popularity and critical legitimacy. But with those highs came some darker, more threatening lows, as tension within the band grew during the recording of Songs of Faith, addictions aplenty, and a trajectory that would result in a nearly life-ending dance with heroin for frontman Dave Gahan.
Plagued by infighting and increasing creative differences, the recording process was difficult and filled with angst. It ultimately resulted in multi-instrumentalist and key sonic force Alan Wilder leaving the band following the subsequent tour in support of the album.
Yet amidst the chaos and the tension came an album that bore some of Depeche Mode’s most ambitious and daring works. Moving on from the dark polish production of Violator, this album took on a looser, more rock edge to it with the increasing dominance of live drums and distorted guitar over their usual synth-laden works. Heavily influenced by the emerging grunge and alt-rock scene, the boys of Basildon set sail into the darkness on what would become their last foray as a foursome.
No clearer is the contrast between Violator and Songs of Faith evidenced than on lead single and album opener “I Feel You,” filled with raucous guitars, pounding drums and guttural vocals. Hard hitting, the relentless groove is packed with energy and is Depeche in Grunge Mode. With a grittier live feel to it, “I Feel You” was a shock to the system for many Depeche purists who felt the band was abandoning their synth sound for grungier grass and cashing in on the process.
But for all of the new rock bluster, the fears that Depeche was losing sight of who they were (at least to fans) was set aside with the arrival of “Walking In My Shoes.” As the quintessential new sound of Depeche, “Walking In My Shoes” showcased the perfect balance between the band’s past and future. Arguably the strongest song on the album (and one of their all-time best) “Walking In My Shoes” is a brooding song of judgment and empathy set against a strutting beat, swirling guitars and masterful vocals.
Chief songwriter Martin L. Gore had always held an obsession with the parallels of power within sex, faith, and fame and many of the tracks on Songs of Faith explore this. Tracks like the gloriously gospel tinged “Condemnation,” the pleading “Mercy In You,” and the lamenting “Judas” all deal with sacrifice, spirituality, atonement and absolution in a way that makes you one of the converted.
At once menacing and comforting, the sonically dark “In Your Room” is one of Depeche Mode’s finest moments on record. Asking for (and giving) total surrender to a lover, “In Your Room” is an erotic haunting and slow ignition of desire and devotion.
After a six song run of musical perfection, a low was due and it comes in the shape of “Get Right With Me.” A call for resolution and olive branch handing, “Get Right With Me” can be seen as the song that most reflects the inner workings of the band during the recording process, with many members engaged in constant arguments with each other. Without the musical and lyrical gravitas of the preceding songs, it can feel a little throwaway at times and marks the diminishing returns of the back half of the album. Similarly, for all its frenetic beats. “Rush” fails to truly connect in the way that many of the other tracks do and many years later, it still feels a little detached.
Thankfully, “One Caress” delivers a return to form. Set against a sweeping string arrangement, Gore takes on vocal duties and delivers a spine-tingling and beautiful ode to the salvation of love.
Album closer “Higher Love” is a brooding redemption song that gathers pace and lightness as it progresses. It’s a song that blends all the best elements of Depeche Mode, old and new with bubbling synth lines, heavy minor chords, impassioned lyrics and vocal delivery, and flawless production.
For all of the angst and turmoil in its creation, Songs of Faith and Devotion remains one of Depeche Mode’s most cohesive sets. Whilst it opened them up to a broader rock sound, doing so didn’t come at the expense of everything you want from a Depeche Mode journey. Even though the grunge era influence is notable, it doesn’t overshadow or come across as gimmicky.
And here, 25 years later, Songs of Faith doesn’t suffer from sounding trapped in a pocket in time. In fact many of the tracks still hold up and connect in the same way they did all those years ago. It’s no surprise then that tracks like “Walking In My Shoes,” “In Your Room,” “I Feel You,” and “Judas” have become mainstays in their live arsenal.
As the last album to feature all four members contributing to its creation before the departure of Wilder (although, what does Fletch actually do again?), Songs of Faith and Devotion is a bittersweet sendoff that remains a rewarding listen.