Playing God
Depeche Mode: Songs of Faith and Devotion




epeche Mode had a long run of great albums starting with 1984’s Some Great Reward. Their shift from a synth-pop band to a darker sound went on to become, what we call today, industrial. This change was most loudly heard on singles like “Blasphemous Rumours” with further exploration coming in 1986 and 1987 with Black Celebration and Music for the Masses, respectively.

Then, the hit.

The eighties were over and Violator was a huge success. The Mode had the world’s attention, at least of that kid in your science class that wore the black leather trench coat and heavy boots. They were selling out stadiums left and right. They needed to follow it with something spectacular.

Unfortunately, they just gave us some great singles and a so-so album.

In 1993, they released Songs of Faith and Devotion, their last album as a four-piece band, one whose recording was fraught with tension and Dave Gahan’s drug addiction. It didn’t stop Depeche Mode from creating a different sound for their new album. After years of playing with synthesizers and keyboards, the guys wanted to make some changes. They wanted a grander feel to the album. Three minute pop songs just weren’t their cup of tea anymore. So, Dave Gahan starting sporting a greasier rocker-type look and Martin Gore sharpened his guitar playing skills. The new album was going to be more guitar-oriented and edgier. It was going to have orchestras and gospel singers. It was going to be huge.

As we all know now, that’s not was happened. What we got was an uneven, unexciting album, sprinkled with a few classics. My solution would be to get rid of everything that hindered this album, and add to those classics with a formula that had worked before.

I present to you now what, in my opinion, could have been an album as successful, and classic, as Violator.

1) Sibeling
Whenever I would put Songs of Faith and Devotion on for someone that hadn’t heard it before, their reaction is usually the same: “Dude, what’s wrong with your CD player?” “I Feel You” is a great song, but it should have been a b-side concert staple. “Sibeling,” a haunting piano instrumental from the Enjoy the Silence EP, creates a much warmer introduction, settles you down, and prepares the listener for what’s about to come.

2) In Your Room (Zephyr Mix)
Now we can have the screeching, ear-piercing intro. After “Sibeling” soothes us, it’s time to turn the ignition key. The atmospheric guitar and piano further expand on the mood “Sibeling” set for the album and lets the listener know that Depeche Mode are growing as a band.

On the original record, “In Your Room” sat in the middle of the track listing, as the centerpiece. But, in my opinion, its placement took away from the importance of this song to Depeche Mode’s expanding sound. “In Your Room” is Depeche Mode at their finest, and it belongs right up front.

3) Dangerous (Seven Inch Mix)
Depeche Mode songs are either about sex, drugs, or both. Song of Faith and Devotion explores the connection between religious dogmatism and the relationship between lovers. “Dangerous,” a “Personal Jesus” b-side, tells of the consequences of being blinded by love, and the path it can lead you. In an age filled with religion-fueled wars, this seems like a perfect fit for the concept of the album.

4) Mercy in You
Continuing with the concept of “Dangerous” and of love’s ability to blind us to consequence and misery, “Mercy in You” stays right where it was on the original album, track 4.

5) Higher Love
“Higher Love” ended the original album perfectly. It was as atmospheric as “In Your Room” and had the gospel-influenced feeling of “Condemnation.” The steady build-up of the verses, as Martin Gore raises the key after each one, brings the track up and up and up, then lets it drift back down. Instead of ending the album with this, let’s just end the first act with it.

6) Memphisto
Violator had two acts, the first being “World in My Eyes” through “Enjoy the Silence.” As “Enjoy the Silence” fades out, Dave Gahan says the song’s title one last time, followed by one ringing key stroke which sends us into…well, silence. A short instrumental followed, as should be here. “Memphisto” is another haunting piano instrumental from the Enjoy the Silence EP. Though, this one sounds like it’s being played from within a gothic church (more of the religion theme). After it’s over, we move onto the second act of Songs of Faith and Devotion, where the intensity begins to increase.

7) Walking in My Shoes (Seven Inch Mix)
None of the band members were satisfied with the final mix of “Walking in My Shoes.” Different versions are sprinkled all over Depeche Mode’s catalog. But, Dave Gahan’s confessional classic still remains one of Depeche Mode’s greatest songs. When listening to the album version, I still expect to hear the random scratches after each verse, which is why I think the solid “Seven Inch Mix” should be used here instead of the incomplete album version.

8) Happiest Girl (Jack Mix)
Arguably Depeche Mode’s greatest b-side, “Happiest Girl” sounds the most like an album track. How this song ended up getting left behind is beyond me. The “Jack Mix,” another track from the “World in My Eyes” single, is a great up-tempo follow-up to the somber “Walking in My Shoes.” Another song about sex, this one tells the story of a girl finding happiness in physical contact. A fitting mirror to Gahan’s growing heroin addiction.

9) Rush
“Rush” is what Trent Reznor wishes he could write. Never has a song’s tone so complemented its title. As we get closer to the end of the album, the urgency of “Rush” is fitting.

10) Sea of Sin (Tonal Mix)
A b-side of “World in My Eyes,” “Sea of Sin” would have been perfect for this album’s theme. It’s definitely not the “guitar-oriented” sound that Depeche Mode were striving for, but neither was the original “In Your Room” mix.

11) Judas
“Judas” sounds so much like a conclusion; I’ll never understand its original placement on the album. Sounding like the beginning an Enigma album, the synth-outro conjures memories of “Blasphemous Rumours,” minus the desperate breathing. If Depeche Mode wanted any ballads on the album, this is the one to keep. Like Violator’s “Blue Dress,” Songs of Faith and Devotion could have saved the ballad for last.



By: Nick Mims
2005-01-31


Comments
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Posted 01/31/2005 - 10:50:56 AM by danzap:
 ...Except that the last song on Violator isn't "Blue Dress"--it's "Clean." Or are there differences in US/UK editions? At any rate, I agree that Songs of Faith and Devotion is a spotty disc, prime material for the Playing God treatment. Still I would've liked to have heard reasons for the exclusion of certain songs--especially "Condemnation," as it contains one of the best vocal performances David Gahan's ever given.
 
Posted 01/31/2005 - 02:44:01 PM by AUnterberger:
 I haven't heard this album (though I'd like to, and most likely will after reading this article), but I must say that the chances of all 11 of these songs being more worthy inclusions than "I Feel You"--the most titanically powerful and mind-blowingly awesome single DMode ever released--is slim at best.

still, I definitely look forward to checking some of these out.
 
Posted 02/01/2005 - 03:34:00 AM by MindInRewind:
 I agree with Andrew ... stating that you're leaving out "I Feel You" right off the top = I have trouble taking the rest of the article seriously. All the "Violator" B-sides you named are fantastic, though. As for the track order, DM don't do the "ballad conclusion" thing well ("Exciter" was one of their only albums that got it right). Their weepy, introspective ballads work best in the middle, i.e. "Waiting For the Night", "Somebody", and "World Full of Nothing". I think "Judas" is perfectly placed at the end of side one. Also, "Sibeling" (or "Mephisto") should assume the "Pimpf" position and be the final track.
 
Posted 02/01/2005 - 11:45:48 AM by verticalphil:
 seriously- its a great article but i gotta disagree with you on the leaving "i feel you" out...
 
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