If "Violator" was the sound of Depeche Mode breaking away from synthpop Britannia on top form, then "Songs of Faith and Devotion" is the crash-landing; the sound of frayed edges, opioid weariness and knife-edge exhaustion.
With scuzzy guitars ("I Feel You"), luscious string sections ("One Caress") and hints of gospel ("Condemnation"), Depeche Mode hit spiritual highs on this record, experimenting in hitherto-unexplored territory. Dave Gahan's social association with LA bands like Jane's Addiction is audible; as were the detrimental effects of his excessive drug use on the band. A dark record to say the least, "Songs of Faith and Deovotion" would be the straw to break the camel's back for Alan Wilder, whose departure after the 1994 Exotic tour left Depeche Mode without their most technically-adept member and on the brink of what would wind up being a bit of an artistic abyss.
Despite a bleak backdrop of drug-addled brawling and tense artistic differences, the majority of this LP is brilliant. Melodically speaking, these are some of Martin Gore's finest tunes. "One Caress" in particular, is beautiful. Gore's vocal absolutely soars over the shrill, dramatic strings; it ranks easily alongside the seminal "Somebody" as one of the most beautiful love-songs he has ever written. Elsewhere, the atmospheric "Judas" swirls around a sweet chord progression, making wry use of Biblical references ('hollow talk and idle promises / cheating Judases, doubting Thomases'). Other highlights include "In Your Room", another dark, but tender moment, with a lovely, unexpected chord change defining its chorus; and "Rush", whose pounding synth bass suggests it could've been dreamt up during the recording of the previous record. Irritatingly, the record closes on a slight ebb with "Higher Love", but it only takes dropping the needle back on the scorched guitars feeding back into the start of "I Feel You" to see just how solid this LP is on the whole.
"Songs of Faith and Devotion" is a world away from the music Depeche Mode were making a mere 12 years before on 1981's "Speak and Spell" - gone are the pep and the buoyancy. This is not one of their '80s records. It's certainly not very fun, and - at its best - it aims for something altogether more harrowing and emotionally poignant than most of Gore's quasi-comedic lyrical assertions of the preceding decade ('anything passes when you need glasses'). Instead, this record is the corrosive sound of an anchor hitting rock bottom, embedding itself and refusing to budge. But in spite of the bleak, entrapping depths, there's a real beauty to behold.
─ ─ ─
1. "I Feel You" - ★★★★★ 2. "Walking in My Shoes" - ★★★★★ 3. "Condemnation" - ★★★★★ 4. "Mercy in You" - ★★★★☆ 5. "Judas" - ★★★★☆ 6. "In Your Room" - ★★★★☆ 7. "Get Right with Me" / "Interlude #4 - (My Kingdom Comes)" - ★★★★☆ 8. "Rush" - ★★★★★ 9. "One Caress" - ★★★★★ 10. "Higher Love" - ★★★☆☆
they made it perfect. 1992-94 was a difficult time for the whole music landscape in the US and worldwide. Safe and successful bands and acts disappeared and were OUT thanks to GRUNGE. Grunge and Alternative Rock bands like STONE TEMPLE PILOTS, PEARL JAM, NIRVANA and more substituted all of the 80s bands for expect U2 and depeche mode.
Artistically, once again the sky seemed the limit but personally it couldn't have turned out more fractured a story, that almost ended in tragedy. Depeche Mode audibly wanted to grow further (if not older) and to great effect; the blues and rock idioms of the day were now completely informing their taste, and the stylistic shift on this album still stands as pretty drastic in both, sound and image.
The creepy distorted intro on "I Feel You" marks it a rather violent kickstart; in some very slight comparison to a certain Ministry - they, too, were a butterfly (well, sort-of), at first heading towards the more melodic territory only to realise their transformation into a merciless hornet worked much to their benefit.
In that respect, "Songs Of Faith And Devotion" can be viewed as Depeche's shift towards their own episode of "The Land Of Rape And Honey". While not as extreme, it still remains their most mature and daring piece of studio work, despite the fact not all fans were ready for it. At that moment in their career, the group openly stated they didn't want to make "Violator pt. II" by any means - however, that record did turn into an albatross around their necks as some ideas on "Faith And Devotion" still do tend to borrow from "Violator" (in fact, a number of Depeche's later albums follow that approach - which is mostly evident in the bluesy guitar riff that first fully encompassed on "Personal Jesus", to be recycled on several occasions later on, resulting in both - a Depeche staple and a necessary evil).
Among the group's ballad standards, the beautiful "Judas" with the use of uilleann pipes stands out of the lot, so does the gospel-led "Condemnation" (which, while amazing in its studio version, works even more beautifully in live format, augmented by the two accompanying gospel stalwarts - Hildia Campbell and Samantha Smith). The remaining sum of the album is not to be ignored - "In Your Room" especially (the album version way more superb than its single version), its subject matter somewhat a sequel to "Master & Servant", this time the dark matter added a more sensual touch.
Audibly, this album is where Alan Wilder helped directing the group's sound more - because when inspected closely, his obsessions with electro-blues were already explored in some of his Recoil material up to that point ("Electro Blues For Bukka White"). While many continue to express disappointment at his decision to leave Depeche Mode after the extensive and exhausting tour for this particular album, Recoil's later efforts ("Unsound Methods", "Liquid" and "subHuman") all mark the presence of ideas that originate from "Songs of Faith And Devotion". While not Depeche, these Recoil albums would very possibly have determined the course of sound in which Depeche might have evolved, if Wilder ever stayed with the group.
Let it be understood that I love all the Depeche Mode LP's sans "Speak and Spell". With that, I must confess, that "Songs Of Faith And Devotion" is their masterpiece. When it fist was released on 3/22/93 I was enthralled, but not fully vested in its brilliance. After years of listening and then leaving it, then revisiting, it became apparent that this brilliant sonic work of art is the epitome of the Depeche Mode canon. Such a work of art... bravo.
Personally I think this album has much better lyrics and music than "Violator". I love the songs on "Violator", but it's not an album I can listen to over and over. This album seems to have more fine tuning and has more emotional depth. It's less catchy and I feel like the programming on tracks like "Rush" and "Walking In My Shoes" exceeds anything on "Violator".
I heard some songs from this album years ago, but it wasn't until I stumbled by chance upon songbook for this album when I realized what its really about. It reads just like any great book/poetry, not just musical lyrics and that's one of the reasons why DM are way ahead of the competitors like Duran Duran and many 80s synth poppers who crossed over into the 90s. Actually, someone called it once "doomy synth-pop" and i would agree (although by this point they were striving for more agressive guitar sound). There was a reasong for being so gloomy at this point, as Dave problems with heroin and overall exhaustion of the band threatened to tear it apart. In a way, I see a bridge between "SOFAD" and "Ultra" - both of them are dedicated to discussion of life and death, but whereas former shows DM on the verge of collapse, latter shows them in their top form with all the dark clouds left behind. In a way, those 2 albums complement each other.
Shamefully, often overlooked by electronic listeners of depeche mode. This to me, is so far the best depeche mode album ever. There's depth, blues, rock and gospel influences sure, but underneath it all lies the best electronic twiddlings dm has ever offered. listen to the last a minutes of Judas for a quick example, or the instrumentation of the original mix (album version) of In Your Room and you'll see what I mean. The sound style crafted here is soon borrowed by bands like Massive Attack's Mezzanine. Mark Stent (producer/mixer) who worked on SOFAD produced Mezzanine and the feel is much the same (massive attack are also self proclaimed Depeche fans). It'
s a fact even that some of the snares and bass use on mezzanine are from the same source as those on SOFAD. Fans of the bass style / ambeince should also check out the album; John Came - Rhythmicon, also on Mute records -- specially the track Ink Tank, it almost sounds like a SOFAD B-side.