Out with the old, in with the new. As with the designs of decades past, in musical terms, the nineties started out feeling fresh, vibrant and bursting with great tunes from the get-go. 1990 was a particularly excellent year for 45s: Vogue, Falling, Freedom!, and even ones that weren’t blessed with one-word titles like Being Boring, Nothing Compares 2 U, and this one, Enjoy The Silence. Contender for single of the year? Hell no, it’s contender for single of the entire decade.
Remember those charmingly upbeat ditties like Just Can’t Get Enough that filled the school discos?
As the 1980s progressed, Depeche Mode’s chief songwriter Martin Gore’s subject matter became weightier as the quartet’s sonic landscape looked increasingly brooding and earnest. Vince Clarke’s trademark tinny New Romantic sound he transplanted into Yazoo and then Erasure became all but a distant memory as his erstwhile colleagues hitched a ride into the moody, mid-tempo, industrial anthems that would be the band’s trademark in future years.
Following the goth-adjacent stomper that was 1989’s Personal Jesus, Enjoy The Silence was released as the 23rd Depeche Mode single in the UK on 5 February, 1990.
The music is more Kraftwerkian than ever on this undoubted tour de force, co-produced by Flood: With its sublime guitar arpeggios and spine-tingling synth scrapes, Enjoy The Silence is a sonic masterpiece that throbs with a pristine yet punishing musical environment; Gahan staying unvaryingly sombre as he voices unsettling lyrics of darkness and violence played out over an atmospheric, disciplined techno pulse.
The pinnacle of Depeche Mode’s seventh album, the game-changing meisterwerk that is Violator, and a shining light for these unknowable and troubling times, are its words: “All I ever wanted, all I ever needed is right here in my arms, words are very unnecessary, they can only do harm,” are like a warm truthful embrace, assuring us that even in solitude, we can yet flourish together.
“Strangely, the thing that immediately came to mind was that I could hear Neil Tennant singing it in my head,” Alan Wilder said of his first listen of Gore’s original demo. “Something about the line ‘all I ever wanted’ sounded very Pet Shop Boys to me.”
Returning the Basildon four-piece to the British Top 10 for the first time in six years, Enjoy The Silence would go on to become one of the Mode’s biggest ever hits, swiftly rising to sixth place as Sinéad O’Connor’s Prince reboot was perched in pole position. It’s also their highest charting single in the US, peaking two spots lower, a precision engineered slice of beautiful dark pop that three decades on still sounds absolutely timeless.
With the possible exception of the Pets’ beautifully elegiac Being Boring, issued later the same year, if there’s a single from the 1990s any better than Enjoy The Silence then, hell, why don’t I know about it?
Peace (in the valley).
Black celebration: Depeche Mode’s Violator is here