A recent conversation about Depeche Mode got me listening to some of their albums again, Violator in particular. What a fine, fine album. I’ll never tire of this record. The now worn cassette which I’ve had since I bought it in 1990; that beautiful, austere cover: the red flower on the black background…the small grey field in the corner and the cursive title.
I was listening to it again this morning in the car; threading my way up the 5 and on to the 134 west. “Waiting for the Night” came on. I always seem to listen to this song twice. I started thinking about what a masterpiece of a song this is. I started thinking that in a way, it’s got something in common with some of what The Beach Boys were doing on Pet Sounds: taking pop music and turning it into pure art; reinventing the form. The Beach Boys wrote exquisitely arranged songs using all sorts of unconventional instrumentation, densely constructed vocal parts, and unorthodox structures. They defied pop conventions even while writing stunning pop music. Depeche Mode managed the same thing, except their defiance of tradition lies elsewhere. In stripping the beat out of the tune altogether, it becomes somehow more naked; more honest. In contrast to the Beach Boys’ rich strata of sound, “Waiting for the Night” is built largely around a very spare synth arpeggio, with David Gahan’s vocals providing almost all of the melody. Fleeting details appear and disappear–a tintinnabulating arpeggio works in counterpoint to the main line–a sort of oboe sounding instrument is briefly introduced, recalling the earlier single “Everything Counts;” ghostly shreds of Gahan’s voice shimmer in the background. In many ways, the music anticipates some of the very uncommercial ambient electronic music that was soon to come while remaining firmly wedded to a very traditional pop song format, with a melody so plainly beautiful and direct that it’s impossible for me to not want to hear it again and again. The bridge in particular is otherworldly.
All of that is fine. The main thing is, it’s a moving piece of music…as is the whole album; almost conceptual without obviously appearing to be so; without trying to be anything other than what it is: a collection of great, honest songs whose sum total is even greater than its parts.
[Adapted from an original post here]