During my freshman year of high school, I started to go through a massive musical re-awakening. Before that period of time, I bounced around between hip hop and even metal, but during four years of high school my interests changed dramatically and set the stage for what ultimately became the types of music that I've been obsessed about for the past 15 years. Along with New Order, The Cure, R.E.M., and Nine Inch Nails, Depeche Mode was one of a core group of bands that really set the wheels in my head into motion regarding the different possibilities of sound itself.
It may sound like I'm being a little overdramatic in saying the above, but as a kid living in a small (800 people) town in the middle of the country (remember, this is pre-internet), all that I was aware of for the longest period of time was classic rock, metal, and whatever popular songs crept through the local radio market. During my freshman year, an "alternative" radio station set up shop and it seemed like every couple weeks I'd hear something that would blow my mind. "Personal Jesus" was one of those tracks, and when I got ahold of the entire Violator album, the group immediately shot to the top of my favorite artists pile.
As was the case with any group that I discovered, I went back and purchased a good portion of their back catalogue. Although the group was remarkably consistent during their heyday (which in my opinion would be between Some Great Reward and Songs Of Faith And Devotion), to this day I still feel like Violator is the pinnacle of their work. The singles on the release were so amazing that I'd venture to say that anyone who's owned the album could sing along with any of them ("Policy Of Truth," "Enjoy The Silence," Personal Jesus," anyone?) to this day, while even the non-single tracks have such a great amount of depth that Violator is one of those albums that's truly so in the greatest sense of the word. Every song is essential, and the nine song, forty-seven minute running length almost feels brief once it's stopped playing.
In fact, some of the lesser-known songs on the release have always been my favorite. The dark "Sweetest Perfection" shows off some great production flourishes as minimal beat programming shuffles behind overlapping layers of swirling synths and a couple touches of guitar (and even a nice synth orchestra interlude) while subtle vocal harmonies glue the song together. On the perennially-underrated "Waiting For The Night," they pull back into minimal, repetitive synth arpeggio's and more great vocal treatments to create a claustrophobic ballad that's quite stunning.
Considering the groundbreaking nature of the album (it sold something like 8 million copies worldwide), it comes as no surprise that it's gotten the remaster treatment. In all honesty, this remastered version of Violator doesn't sound a whole lot different than the original, which is actually a good thing in my mind. The DVD bonus material is the stuff that will really appeal to fans, as all the original tracks are featured in 5.1 mixes, along with some great b-sides (including one of DM's best ever in "Dangerous"). In addition, the DVD portion contains a short but informative and highly interesting documentary about the making of the album and the post-release hoopla surrounding it (including a near-riot at an L.A. record store where 17,000 people showed up to get autographs from the group).
With Violator, the group for the first time ditched their self-imposed rule about not using any guitars, and through a series of events that included hiring young and upcoming producer Flood, Depeche Mode created what is easily a classic in the genre. It's dance pop with a touch of rock, and because it blurs so many lines (including where synths end and guitars begin), it manages to hold up just fine sixteen years after it originally came out. If you're a huge fan, you'll probably want this version, but if you don't own Violator at all, you probably should.