Once Upon a Time in the Top Spot: Depeche Mode, SONGS OF FAITH AND DEVOTION
26 years ago this week, Depeche Mode sat atop the Billboard 200 with their eighth studio album, making it the first LP by the band to debut at #1 in both the US and the UK.
Co-produced by the band with Mark Ellis, a man who’s far better known by his studio sobriquet, Flood, SONGS OF FAITH AND DEVOTION found Depeche Mode embracing a darker, heavier sound, which stands to reason when you consider Flood’s history of working with artists like Nitzer Ebb and Nine Inch Nails. What also needs to be remembered, however, is that the album emerged in the midst of the grunge era, which was having an effect on plenty of places beyond the Pacific Northwest, as you can plainly hear within the grooves of this very record. In fact, it’s evident from the album’s opening track, “I Feel You,” which began grinding its way into listeners’ hearts a little over a month before SONGS itself was released.
The album was recorded in Madrid over the course of an eight-month period, with Flood – who’d only just recently wrapped up his work on U2’s ACHTUNG BABY – suggesting that the boys build their own studio within the house they were renting, which is exactly what the basement of the house became. The subsequent material recorded by the band was intended to be looser and less programmed than what they’d produced for their previous album, VIOLATOR, a decision which led to live drums by Alan Wilder on “I Feel You” (okay, yes, they were subsequently sampled and sequenced to form drum loops, but originally they were live), Uillean pipes on “Judas,” and a harpsichord (sample) on “Walking in My Shoes.”
Despite Depeche Mode’s expanded creativity, however, there was tension in the ranks resulting from a number of different things, not least of which was Gahan’s heroin addiction. They decided to try jamming together in order to write material for the album, which they’d never tried doing before, and when those sessions failed to result in much of anything, the frustration was considerable. Flood has since acknowledged that the limited amount of pre-production proved problematic, describing the atmosphere as “like pulling teeth,” and although he didn’t act on his decision until after finishing the tour behind the album, Wilder decided in the midst of making SONGS OF FAITH AND DEVOTION that it was time for him to leave the band.
Yes, it was rough going in the studio, but, hey, at least the album was a success, right? As noted, it topped the US and UK album charts in its first week, but it also had four high-charting singles: beyond “I Feel You,” which topped the US Alternative chart, hit #8 in the UK, and was a top-40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, “Walking in My Shoes,” “Condemnation,” and “In Your Room” all made their way into the top 10 on some chart or other.
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