10. Wrong (from Sounds of the Universe, 2009)
- Frontman Dave Gahan‘s seen some pretty dark things, and he’s never been one to shy away from revealing those things. On “Wrong” he tosses up his misfortunes to fate, painting a bleak picture of a chain reaction that’s caused a lot of pain in his life. In the wrong hands (note: lol) this song could turn into a massive pity party, but Gahan is so vehement about the whole affair and the inward anger comes off as genuine. The rhythmic repetition of “wrong” becomes part of the song’s driving force, a venomous hook that digs into the ear. It’s also structurally interesting, with the song starting from halfway into a chord progression.
9. Precious (from Playing the Angel, 2005)
- The spiritual sequel to “Enjoy the Silence” isn’t quite as potent as the original, but the sheer amount of interesting textures in the song was a reminder to the world that the band were programming wizards. The bit-crushed jangle chords that pop up occasionally are a nice touch, as is the delicate lead synth. It is a little disconcerting to imagine that the same relationship from the 1990 single fractured, but a glimmer of hope floats throughout the song, hinting at a potentially happy ending.
8. Miles Away (from Sounds of the Universe, 2009)
- The short, winding guitar loop is a common trademark in the band’s repertoire, and this album cut makes excellent use of a three-second fragment. An art-damaged synth provides a solid hook, bolstering what otherwise would have been a slight chorus.
7. I Feel You (from Songs of Faith and Devotion, 1993)
- The second 90s album from the band firmly established them as a rock act, with this song veering strangely close to the hair metal of the late 80s. It’s a swaggering piece of jock rock over a menacing guitar riff that allowed the band to fit snugly alongside the grunge acts that dominated the music world that year.
6. Strangelove (from Music for the Masses, 1987)
- The first decade of the band’s career is best defined by the sound of “Strangelove”. It’s eminently new wave, but is still permeated by the almost macabre nature of the band. The lead hook is not too unlike fellow goths The Cure, just colder and more machine-like.
5. Policy of Truth (from Violator, 1990)
- Violator revived the band from potential extinction, with three monster singles that catapulted them into legendary fame. “Policy of Truth” acts as a bridge between the new wave side of the band and the alternative rock side, marrying an ominous soundscape with the unmistakable tone of 80s drums. It functions both as an electronic and rock song, with some searing guitar licks flying through during the post-chorus.
4. Never Let Me Down Again (from Music for the Masses, 1987)
- Long before the days of maximalist EDM and communal indie choruses, “epic” was a rare commodity in pop (or even alternative) music. The days of prog rock crossovers were long gone and other than the odd “Bohemian Rhapsody” songs stayed relatively low-key. This full-blast symphonic assault brings in a choir and a full brass section to create a colossal wave of a final chorus, complete with a fantastic counter-melody from Martin Gore.
3. Enjoy the Silence (from Violator, 1990)
- The oft-quoted lyrics “All I ever wanted/all I ever needed/is here/in my arms” are surprisingly tender for Violator-era Depeche Mode. Not only is the song missing references to hard drugs and harrowing nihilism, but it puts love in a positive light as well. No betrayal, lies or unhealthy dependence here! Just a quiet embrace and appreciation for affection.
2. It’s No Good (from Ultra, 1997)
- The last of the band’s major hits finds Gahan back in louche mode, this time cloaked heavily in late-90s electronica and splayed over the most popular drum beat of the day. It brought the group into contemporary style, ditching the last vestiges of new wave from their sound. Gahan plays the part of a passively confident lothario, and his overconfidence would be annoying if he didn’t sell it with such a casual air. “It’s No Good” also features the strongest instrumental hook the band’s ever written, a drawling reverbed synth that matches Gahan’s laissez-faire nature and follows his unctuous voice out into the abyss.
1. Walking in My Shoes (from Songs of Faith and Devotion, 1993)
- The band’s staggering opus is a masterpiece of a composition. It’s one of the most intricate chord progressions the band’s ever written, and like “Never Let Me Down Again” it’s a towering beast of epic proportions. Here the melodrama builds more subtly, but no less effectively. Swooping strings pile on gradually, sculpting the glacial monolith into a gothic castle of glass. Gahan sounds simultaneously confident and broken, a wounded king begging for the audience to peek behind the curtain he’s put up. To this date the band hasn’t attempted another climactic orchestral piece like this one, and perhaps that’s for the best. It’s hard to see how they could top it.