How Depeche Mode conquered the world: Songs of Faith and Dissension.
After the success of the Music for The Masses tour, Depeche Mode shed the teen boyband fame to become a world renowned rock band. The band decided put this in fame in good use and decided to innovate. For the next album, the band took a new approach, according to Alan Wilder: "Usually we begin the making of a record by having extensive pre-production meetings where we decide what the record will actually sound like, then go into a programming studio. This time we decided to keep all pre-production work to a minimum”.
In mid-1989, the band began recording in Milan with producer Flood and engineer François Kevorkian. At this point, Wilder began a complementary working relationship with Flood being able to provide the technical know-how and Wilder working on the arrangements and song textures. "That's how we made the group work at that time", clarified Wilder, "by accepting that we all had different roles and not actually all trying to do the same thing. So we ended up with this unwritten agreement in the band, where we'd all throw together a few ideas at the beginning of a track. Then Fletch and Mart would go away, and they'd come back after we'd worked on it for a while to give an opinion”.
Also, the way Martin Gore presented the songs to the band had a radical change. After the almost-finished songs presented by Gore in the Music for the Masses’ demos, Gore, agreeing to Wilder's request, kept them bare for the new album. Several of the demos consisted of sole vocals over a simple guitar or organ part. This allowed the band to take creative liberties with the songs. "Enjoy the Silence", for example, started out as a slow ballad, but at Wilder's suggestion became a pulsating, up-tempo track.
According to Flood, the Milan sessions didn't amount to substantial work, but generated "Personal Jesus", which set the tone and spirit of the album. The song was released as a single more than six months before the album (28 August 1989 versus 19 March 1990). The band then relocated to Puk studios in northern Denmark, where most of the album was recorded.
"Personal Jesus" was a radical departure from anything the band had released so far, featuring a catchy bluesy riff and a more rock sound. Although not the first Depeche Mode song to have guitar parts, it was the first time a guitar was used as a dominant instrument.
The song was inspired by the book Elvis and Me by Priscilla Presley. According to songwriter Martin Gore: “It's a song about being a Jesus for somebody else, someone to give you hope and care. It's about how Elvis Presley was her man and her mentor and how often that happens in love relationships; how everybody's heart is like a god in some way, and that's not a very balanced view of someone, is it?”
"Personal Jesus" peaked number 3 in US Billboard Modern Rock Tracks, and was ranked number 368 in Rolling Stone's list of "The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and in September 2006 it was voted as one of the "100 Greatest Songs Ever" in Q magazine.
Following up “Personal Jesus”, three more singles were released: “Enjoy the Silence”, which reached number 1 in the US and other coutries and became a signature song for the band, “Policy of Truth” (number 1 in Billboard’s US Modern Rock Tracks) and “World in my Eyes” (number 3 in Billboard’s US Hot Dance Singles).
At this point Depeche Mode was a stadium band, the World Violation Tour broke some of the band records: 42,000 tickets were sold within four hours for a show at Giants Stadium, and 48,000 tickets were sold within half-an-hour of going on sale for a show at Dodger Stadium. An estimated 1.2 million fans saw this tour worldwide. According producer Flood: "I remember going to see them in Giants Stadium, and they broke the merchandising record; of Bon Jovi, U2 — all these bands — Depeche Mode were the biggest!"
Songs of Faith and Devotion their eighth studio album was released on 22 March 1993 in the United Kingdom and a day later in the United States. Upon its release, Songs of Faith and Devotion reached number one in several countries, it also has the distinction of debuting at number one in both the UK and the US, only the sixth British act to achieve it to date.
As Dave Gahan had become interested in the new grunge scene sweeping the U.S. and was influenced by the likes of Jane's Addiction, Soundgarden and Nirvana, the album incorporated a more aggressive, darker rock-oriented tone than its predecessor Violator. With producer Flood the band experimented with arrangements based as much on heavily distorted electric guitars and live drums, played by Alan Wilder. The first single from the album was the grunge-influenced "I Feel You." Gospel influences were noticeable throughout the album, specially on the third single, "Condemnation".
Songs of Faith and Devotion was recorded over eight months in a rented villa in Madrid during 1992 with extra sessions in Hamburg and London. The idea of building their own studio in a rented house where the band would live and work came from producer Flood, following his work on U2's Achtung Baby.
Although the Violator used a great deal more live recorded audio than previous Depeche Mode releases the band still relied heavily on sequencing, also the audio of that record had been quantised to the exact beats of the bars, resulting in a slick but sequenced feel. For Songs of Faith and Devotion, the band wanted a looser and less programmed fell. The tracks would include lve drums performed by Wilder, that were sampled and sequenced to form drum loops using Cubase but keeping all the dynamics and inherent mistakes of a human performance. Embellishments like reversed cymbals were added later at the behest of Wilder, who often suggested experimental elements to the sound design of the band.
To support the album the band went in its largest tour to that point. The Devotion Tour spanned fourteen months, visiting twenty-seven countries and played to over two million people over 158 dates. The tour covered 100,000 miles and required 90 tonnes of equipment.
Recording the album and the subsequent touring exacerbated growing tensions and difficulties within the band. According Flood, despite the feeling the band were recording one of their greatest works, the "little things" of the recording process never ran smoothly, leading to constant, largely non-constructive, arguing. Interviews given by the band during this period tended to be conducted separately, unlike earlier albums, where the band was interviewed as a group. According to British newspaper The Independent, the "smack-blasted" Gahan "required cortisone shots just to perform, Gore became borderline alcoholic and suffered two stress-induced seizures. Andrew Fletcher's deepening depression resulted in a full nervous breakdown and a refusal to participate in the second half of the Exotic Tour, being he was replaced on stage by Daryl Bamonte. By June 1995, Alan Wilder announced that he was leaving Depeche Mode, highlighting a highly uneven workload distribution, lack of acknowledgement from his bandmates, creative differences within the band and overall lack of cohesion.
Wilder would later compare the friction between the members of The Beatles during the recording of The White Album to conditions working on Songs of Faith and Devotion: "we were in the worst possible state as members but we were creating some of our best work. The stories I hear about them [The Beatles] not being even in the same room together – that was very much the same with us”, he continued explaining that “during the making of that album, I really made a decision to leave the group; even though I didn't leave until two or three years later, I remember thinking 'I'm never going to make another record under these circumstances again, because it's so much not fun'. And music should be fun – there should be some sort of enjoyment there".
At this point, with Wilder's departure and lead singer Dave Gahan's increasing drug problems, speculation of Depeche Mode’s end was high. Gore tried repeatedly to get the band recording again, but Gahan would rarely show up, and when he did, it was useless to get any vocals done. A six-week session at Electric Lady in New York produced just one usable vocal ("Sister of Night"), pieced together from multiple takes. Gore contemplated breaking the band up and releasing the songs he had written as a solo album.
In 1996, after a near-fatal overdose, Gahan entered a court-ordered drug rehabilitation program to battle addiction. After Gahan finished rehab, Depeche Mode finally started, with producer Tim Simenon, recording sessions.
Ultra was released in April 1997, preceded by two singles, "Barrel of a Gun" and "It's No Good". The album debuted at number 1 in the UK and Germany and number 5 in the US. As the band was, according Fletcher “not fit enough” there was no tour in support of the album, the band did perform two short concerts in London and Los Angeles, called "Ultra Parties.". The album spawned two further singles, "Home" and "Useless".
In 1988 Depeche Mode released the singles compilation, The Singles 86–98, including a new single "Only When I Lose Myself", recorded during the Ultra sessions. With healed spirits and making up for the lack of tour for Ultra, the band announced The Singles Tour, that was the first to feature two backing musicians in place of Alan Wilder—Austrian drummer Christian Eigner and British keyboardist Peter Gordeno
Depeche Mode had gone through its worst crisis and survived.
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