When Depeche Mode's 1993 album "Songs of Faith and Devotion" begins with screaching vinyl scratches of its opener and first single, "I Feel You", it becomes clear that there will be no room for enjoying the silence on this record.
When the album hit, dedicated fans of the group's earlier releases were shocked by the band's new harder, alternative rock sound, a far departure from the days of "People Are People". The thing is they made the mistake of misjudging the album for something that is not, and that is a standard rock record.
Even the band's most fierce song, "I Feel You", is layered with lots of synths, from the processed distorted blues guitar riff, to the digitally effected live drums, to the trademark Depeche Mode atmospheric synth lines.
But this album, much like most other Depeche releases, does not rely on a few singles, but is best heard in album form. When given a full listening, "Songs Of Faith and Devotion" (SOFAD) is arguably Depeche Mode's most challenging and powerful album.
From the crying gospel of "Condemnation" to the somber ballad "Judas", the album tackles faith and devotion as relating to humanity, as opposed to religiously.
One of the album's biggest strengths is the larger contribution from each member; Martin L. Gore's writing is more refined, Alan Wilder's arrangements are borderline perfection, and Dave Gahan's vocals are his best and most organic. He really lets loose on tracks like the bouncy rocker "Mercy In You" and the epic "Higher Love".
Epic is a word often used (especially in this review) to describe this album, and it is because the sounds are so powerful that this might even be thought of as a sonic concept album, as the mood and pacing are so well synched.
The Martin L. Gore sung "Judas" progresses into the large build up of "In Your Room", which is widely believed to be one of the band's best tracks. All those doubting the band's change in image can look right to that track, all the band's trademarks --- swirling synths, fierce beats, and Gahan's emotional vocals--- are all here.
The band's production also shows an improvement on that of "Violator" by Flood with songs like the hip-hop flavored "Get Right With Me" and the rave pace of "Rush".
Sure, the band show some modern influences (Nine Inch Nails, Grunge rock), but this album is not at all a sell out (which some argue due to its #1 charting). This album is all Depeche Mode, all emotion, and you could not call yourself a fan of the band without owning it.
For those of you that love rock, pop, synth, or all combined, you can find it here, in one of the most inspiring albums of the 90's.
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