Depeche Mode – Songs of Faith and Devotion

Part 20 of a series that will run every Friday throughout 2012 as I discuss records that have affected me throughout the years – Flashback Fridays

In the early 90’s I spent a lot of time with a good friend and his older brother. His older brother had what we considered a “cool” car – a Camaro Z28 (surely this is what The Dead Milkmen meant when they sang about a “Bitchin Camaro”). We went everywhere his brother went throughout ’92 and most of ’93. As is tradition with boys, we would hang out, do ridiculous things, and play the latest music. My friends brother had the latest cassette single (yes, seriously) by Depeche Mode called “I Feel You”. It seemed to have a way more aggressive tone than what I had heard in the past, and seemed to tie into the edgier music I was seeking out. The B side “One Caress” was even better – a song filled with strings and the singer singing his heart out. All I knew is that once the full length record came out, I had to have it.

A little background – Depeche Mode hadn’t always appealed to me. In fact, let me be honest – when I was discovering “modern rock” or “alternative” or whatever you want to call it, I was a bit disappointed by the albums friends would recommend to me. I liked several songs from each record up through Violatorthis has changed as I’ve grown older, but this was how I felt at the time. For every song on the level of “Blasphemous Rumours” or “People are People” it seemed I had to endure some sort experimental electronic wonkery. Still kind of true in my opinion, though I enjoy / appreciate each Depeche Mode record in my older state of mind.

After purchasing the Songs of Faith and Devotion CD it became my soundtrack for about 18 months. The pain in David Gahan‘s voice seemed real, his questioning lyrics seemed to mirror my thoughts. I caught both legs of the seemingly never ending tour – both at the old Spectrum in Philadelphia, PA. The 1st time around was simply heavenly – transporting me to a place where time and space ceased to exist. The 2nd time around in the summer of 1994 wasn’t as mystical of an experience – Gahan seemed to be living his lyrics and was noticeably thinner and a bit out of it. The saving grace was the opening act – a little band by the name of Primal Scream. The mid 90’s would prove to be a harrowing experience for David Gahan, and I saw that 1st hand at the 1994 concert. A case of life imitating art, with drastic results? Could be – all I know is that this record has held up extremely well in the 19 years since it was released, and it seems to speak to me in a way that few other records can.

Is simplicity best…or simply the easiest?

I Feel You blasts into the speakers with a white noise assault before a driving guitar refrain opens the music. David Gahan wails the title track a few times before the entire band joins in. It doesn’t sound like anything the band did in the 80’s. Where are the electronics? The synthesizers? At the time of release, many thought the entire album would be like this – the DM “rock” album. It is a slightly misleading album opener / 1st single – but what an opener. There is despair in Gahan’s voice, the music suitably matching his dark outlook. Key lyrics:

I feel you
Your precious soul
And I am whole
I feel you
Your rising sun
My kingdom comes

Walking In My Shoes 2nd track, 2nd single. Funny how they sequenced this record. This song harkens back to the late 80’s Depeche Mode sound – with a bit of an updated feel. The beat seems to be a mix of organic and sequenced. Gahan under sings the early verses to rope the listener in with the hooky chorus. The chorus by the way is one of the strongest of Depeche Mode’s career. Again, there is a darkness underpinning the entire affair. Key lyrics:

I’m not looking for a clearer conscience
Peace of mind after what I’ve been through
And before we talk of any repentance
Try walking in my shoes
Try walking in my shoes

Condemnation 3rd track and yet another single. Can’t help but think of the store (not sure if it is still there) Condom Nation on South Street in Philly every time I hear this song. Very slow beat to start the song out, segues into a gospel lament. Emotions pouring out of David Gahan, contrasting with the somewhat positive music. This doesn’t sound like a single to me, it sounds more like a deeper album cut (but who the hell am I, I guess). Key lyrics:

If for honesty
You want apologies
I don’t sympathize
If for kindness
You substitute blindness
Please open your eyes

Because my duty
Was always to beauty
And that was my crime

Mercy In You the 1st song from the record that wasn’t a single, 4 songs in. Again – the sequencing is curious. Dark synthesizers to open, a wah wah guitar giving the song an odd 80’s meets 90’s feel. Music & vox hold back for the 1st minute until it hits the chorus where it provokes a feeling of elation from the listener (well, at least it does for me after all these years). Key lyrics:

I would lose my way again
Be led hopelessly astray again
Just so I could pray again
For the mercy in you

When here in my mind
I have been blind
Emotionally behind
I have faith I will find
The mercy in you

Judas A song title based off of the biblical figure Judas, who sold out Jesus. Kind of heavy for a song and yet it is fitting for this record filled with pain. The music sounds like a soundtrack for a Celtic festival at first before moving into a low key electronic mood piece. Key lyrics:

Is simplicity best
Or simply the easiest
The narrowest path
Is always the holiest
So walk on barefoot for me
Suffer some misery
If you want my love
If you want my love

In Your Room – this track is hands down my favorite Depeche Mode song of all time. Gurgling synths to start, an ominous tone as Gahan starts singing, his voice laced with emotion. A trick of this album seems to be to hold back and build into an emotional apex. The trick is perfectly executed here. An almost hip-hop beat carries the tune as the song builds the emotions throughout it’s 6 minutes. I remember dancing at the Depeche Mode concert, giving my soul completely over to the music – not aware of how I looked dancing (probably really silly). There are a few mixes of this track out there – the original album version is the best. Key lyrics:

In your room
Your burning eyes
Cause flames to arise
Will you let the fire die down soon
Or will I always be here
Your favorite passion
Your favorite game
Your favorite mirror
Your favorite slave

I’m hanging on your words
Living on your breath
Feeling with your skin

Get Right With Me a noisy deeper album cut. Sounds like David Gahan is preaching from the pulpit. Has a feedback laden guitar with a simple beat. A lighter tone after the previous track. Key lyrics:

Friends, if you’ve lost your way
You will find it again some day
Come down from your pedestals
And open your mouths that’s all
Get right with me

Rush a dark and driving electronic vibe permeates the atmosphere. A song that explicitly describes a sexual act in poetic terms whilst comparing it to a spiritual reawakening. An interesting presentation – if you stop to analyze what you are singing you may be surprised. A very dark feeling to this song that only increases throughout its 4 minutes – though very danceable. Key lyrics:

Gave more for you
Dropped my crutches
And crawled on the floor for you
Went looking behind every door for you
And because of the things
That I saw for you
I spiritually grew
When I come up
When I rush
I rush for you

One Caress just strings – reminds me of the great INXS song “Never Tear Us Apart” at first. David Gahan’s voice comes in, laying his soul bare. Once it kicks into the chorus an entire orchestra fills my speakers. A devastating song, haunting in the way it leaves emotions so openly naked. Key lyrics:

Well I’m down on my knees again
And I pray to the only one
Who has the strength
To bear the pain
To forgive all the things that I’ve done

Oh girl
Lead me into your darkness
When this world is trying it’s hardest
To leave me unimpressed
Just one caress
From you and I’m blessed

Higher Love a subtle electronic beat begins the closing song of this album – where this journey will end is anyone’s guess. The vocals come in, conveying emotion like few other artists can. A stronger beat begins with increasingly emotional vocals. An uplifting feel to this tune, a perfectly executed concluding track. Key lyrics:

Heaven bound on the wings of love
There’s so much that you can rise above

Moved, lifted higher
Moved, moved, by a higher love
By a higher love

I surrender heart and soul
Sacrificed to a higher goal

Depeche Mode would continue to release great records after this one, but this is the one I always come back to. It is the perfect bridge from the 80’s Depeche Mode into the more modern Depeche Mode of the 90’s and beyond. Revisiting this record I am stunned by what a dark feeling there is even though when it was released it was touted as a positive, faith based record. I cannot say whether my retrospective view is affected by what we now know of the inner turmoil David Gahan was going through – all I know is that I love this record and it makes me feel like I am 16 again, giving my soul over to the music.

This piece is dedicated to an old friend who is the biggest Depeche Mode fan I’ve ever known. She is suffering from Lyme’s Disease and I know the music of Depeche Mode (along with INXS) have helped her through some hard times.

Join me next week as I discuss I Am a Bird Now by Antony & the Johnsons.

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