Release Year: 1993
If you’ve been following the blog long enough, you know I’ve had a bad relationship with this album. Although it was a critically acclaimed follow up to Violator, I could never get into it. After repeated listens I thought it was boring, save for a handful of songs. While looking through my albums, I came across this one and thought maybe I was being too harsh. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it at the time. It did take me years to fully appreciate albums like The Cure’s Pornography. So I decided to give it one more and shot. Turns out I was wrong about this record.
What initially turned me off to this album was how it didn’t sound like the Depeche Mode I was used to. Where was the thrilling synth? Where were the danceable, yet sexy songs? They don’t completely abandon their electronic side, but they favor a rock oriented sound here. This is best heard on the opening track “I Feel You.” It’s the most straightforward rock song in their catalog. It has this great, sexy bluesy riff that wails while Dave Gahan coos “I feeeeeeeeel you/your sun it shines.” The music keeps building getting more intricate as the song goes on. Even though it’s pretty sensual, it still shows a harsher direction not previously found in their music.
I liked “Walking In my Shoes,” which starts with a jangly piano leading to hushed electronic sounding beats. Similar to the previous song, the music here sets up a darker landscape for the album. That says a lot for a band whose music is peppered with grim themes. This song also starts the numerous religious references on the album, which return on the next track “Condemnation.” I’m still not crazy about this song. I can appreciate it, especially since it sounds more like a gospel track, which was unique for the band at the time. It also boasts a great vocal performance from Gahan who sounds anguished and near tears while singing. There’s a lot of heartache and emotion behind it, which can be said for all the songs here. While I like the idea, I just don’t like the style.
What I found most interesting about the album is how morose and hopeless it sounds. Depeche Mode has never been shy with exploring dark feelings, but there’s usually some upbeat song to break up the mood. “Rush” is the closest it gets to something upbeat and danceable on this record. The rest of the tracks seem mired in misery. Even when addressing topics like love and needing someone else it sounds desperate, such as on “One Caress,” an excellent solo moment from Martin Gore. When listening to this album, you feel this sense of impending doom.
This morose mood continues on tracks “Higher Love” and “Mercy In You” where Gahan sounds like a vampire wanting to feed on the mercy in someone. Another stand out track, “In Your Room” is pretty sensual thanks to the intricate, lush music, but it still has dark connotations with references to slaves and being held captive by a lover. Though it’s more rock oriented, like most of the songs here, the sexy mood, intricate music, and Gahan’s powerful vocals make this a classic Depeche Mode track. It’s one I’ve always enjoyed from the album.
“Judas” is notable for beginning with bagpipes to set a heavenly atmosphere. Gore’s on vocals here, so as usual, he has a way of making things sound creepy even if it’s not intentional. But for some reason, the song doesn’t hit the sweet spot like other Gore tracks. “One Caress,” which features his on vocals is actually the better of the two ballads. It begins with a riff that sounds like the opening of “Never Tear Us Apart.” This song stands out for the string composition. It adds this stark, dramatic vibe to the music. Though the song is about how good the touch of a loved one is, it still sounds unsettling with the music growing more and more intense. He’s sounds so desperate for it, it’s like he’s on edge and he’ll do anything to get that one caress. It’s a similar eerie vibe that worked for “I Want You Now.”
Unlike most of their past releases, this one is really slow, cathartic, and dark. Their music has always been moody and gloomy, but this one is downright heartbreaking. Considering the inner turmoil of the band and Gahan’s heroin problem, it makes sense why so many of the songs are gut wrenching. Some of the songs seem like they’re about Gahan. “Get Right With Me” starts out dark and creepy, but throws listeners for a loop with a random record scratch. It’s kind of off putting since it doesn’t fit the song, but it doesn’t last very long. The lyrics seem to talk about someone laying down what it’s going to take to get back in someone’s good graces: “Friends, if you’ve lost your way/ you will find it again.” This could be a reference to Gahan losing his way via drugs and Gore remaining hopeful he’ll get clean.It was a tough album to make according to the band and it shows in these songs.
So, do I still hate this album? No, now I realize I wrong about it. It’s not boring and dull. While it’s still not my favorite, I realize it’s a solid, introspective entry in their catalog. The songs may be different with their rock oriented sound and heavier vibe, but they remain gripping, thoughtful, and well-crafted like their previous efforts. Even if all the songs didn’t catch my attention the overall depressing mood of the record did make me reflect on what the band was going through at the time. With the sonic shifts and darker themes, it’s one of those albums that needs time for some to fully appreciate it. And I’m glad I can view the album differently. I don’t think I can say the same for Venus Doom.