After greeting the 80s with the excellent Music For the Masses and entering the 90s with the explosion of Violator, there weren’t many obstacles on Depeche mode’s way. What could happen at that point, as real stars of pop-rock scene and still young enough to continue on their own direction?
Well, everything can happen. After eighteen months of separation, Depeche Mode met again in 1992 for the recordings of Songs of Faith and Devotion and they were crossed by tensions and problems that would shortly explode: while Martin Gore, Alan Wilder and Andrew Fletcher returned to their (more or less) ordinary lives, Dave Gahan had entered the spiral of heroin. Meeting the singer shocked the other members of the band, facing a man who was deeply changed both inside and outside, skinny, covered by tattoos and more fragile.
The idea to recreate a “family” environment and to live together during the recording sessions wasn’t very successful, aggravating a situation that highlighted the problems and increasing the tensions among all members.
Alan Wilder, the musical director since ever, was the most frustrated of all, mostly because he suffered more than the others the bad impact of those behaviours on Depeche Mode serenity and productivity: Gahan, buried in his toxic frenzy, was not happy to be judged by his companions; Gore, overwhelmed by the responsibility of writing songs comparable to Violator‘s levels, was slipping in alcoholism and started to be passive in the studio; Fletcher suffered the whole situation and he tried hard to keep the group close, trying to manage the deteriorating relationship between Gore and Wilder.
Even Flood, called to produce Songs Of Faith and Devotion, was marked by the experience in the studio with Depeche Mode and he never wanted to work with them again: but that was the moment when the album needed to be recorded, and somehow the creative process started.
The different influences that Gahan, Gore and Wilder experienced in recent months had led them to have substantially different and unorganic visions of how Songs of Faith and Devotion was supposed to be: the first song recorded was the painful and alienating Walking in My Shoes, where Gore’s pop aesthetics, Gahan’s rock attitude and Wilder’s gloomy solemnity successfully merged together, creating the sound that branded the album.
The scratching riff of I Feel You opens the album and immediately makes clear how different and contaminated the musical evolution of Depeche Mode was. The album was able to touch may more styles, from the gospel of Condemnation, to the industrial rock of Rush and Mercy in You, up to the orchestral evocations of One Caress.
The tragic anxiety of Higher Love and In Your Room (two wonderful pearls of the album) further accentuates the gloomy side of Songs of Faith and Devotion. Even if Martin Gore always denied it, the album seemed modeled on the emaciated and shattered figure of Gahan, the caricature of a self-destructing star getting closer to the point of no return.
The only weaknesses of Songs of Faith and Devotion were the Judas and Get Right With Me, which sound like B-sides compared to the other songs: but the miracle made by Depeche Mode was precisely in having minimized this type of songs , succeeding in achieving what probably is their best work, in that impossible situation.
The tour organized to promote the album showed the band in great shape (and the Devotional clip remains a valuable document of that period), but despite the success of the album, that long time in tour (and the excesses that were constantly accompanying them) worsened the tensions: at somee point Fletcher abandoned the group in a nervous breakdown and his relation with Wilder was getting worse and worse; Gore seemed to not realize how much alcohol was becoming a problem; Wilder was disappointed and dissatisfied, feeling little acknowledged about the real value of his contribution within the group; and Gahan accelerated his fall into drug addiction.
In June 1995 Alan Wilder officially left the band, no longer recognizing in Depeche Mode the same enthusiasm of the beginnings and the communion of intents among the components: the health conditions of Dave Gahan (who received the news by fax, since he wasn’t available when the former keyboardist announced the departure) and the damaged relationship between Martin Gore and Andrew Fletcher convinced him that the storiy of the band had now come to an end.
Martin Gore didn’t do much to stop him, partially sharing the feeling that the adventure of Depeche Mode was compromised: if even the member that did most to keep the band united (besides being their true musical soul) left, what should he do with a singer drowning in drug addiction and a companion unable to manage stress?
The answer will arrive soon and Depeche Mode would come back with Ultra, leaving behind them their worst period, together with that gloomy and painful masterpiece that Songs Of Faith and Devotion was.