88. Depeche Mode - Personal Jesus

You wouldn't think that growing up in Southern California in the early 80's would be the perfect place to be exposed to British new wave and alternative music. But that's where I first heard some of the artists that were the new wave of British pop and synth music. The world famous KROQ indoctrinated me. They introduced all of us LA kids to The Cure, Howard Jones, Duran Duran (before they were huge) and the band behind #88, Depeche Mode. The song, "Personal Jesus," off of their seventh album, Violator, was a real departure for the band at the time.

Being known almost exclusively as a synth alternative band, "Personal Jesus" features the guitar for the first time as the main instrumental driving force. An almost tribal drum beat accompanies the guitar melody after the "Reach out and touch faith" introduction. The first time I heard this song, back in late '89, I thought it sounded a lot like Dave Gahan singing, but it sure didn't sound like all the other Depeche Mode stuff I'd heard and loved. It was a ballsy move for the band, and it ended up being one of their biggest hits, proving that changing your sound isn't career suicide, but sometimes just the opposite.

Lots of Depeche Mode songs deal with unhealthy relationships, and "Personal Jesus" is no exception. Martin Gore, who writes almost every Depeche Mode song (and wrote this as well), said the inspiration for the song was Priscilla Presley's relationship with Elvis. Elvis was her "personal Jesus," someone into which she placed her hope and ultimately, her entire life. The lyrics echo that:

Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who cares
Your own personal Jesus
Someone to hear your prayers
Someone who's there

Dave Gahan's voice has that deep, rich baritone that works so well with the music and lyrics that Martin writes. It's a testament to the singer when he/she sings the songs and makes the lyrics their own. Lots of people are surprised when they find out that the words Gahan sings aren't his own. But he does a really good job of making each song his, and having his voice being do distinctive, it's hard to imagine anyone else singing the song. (Marilyn Manson, though, does a pretty good cover of this song.)

While the guitar and drums stay center stage for most of the song, about three and a half minutes into the song, it takes a drastic turn back into a more traditional Depeche Mode song. The drums stay, but the synthesizers come in, giving the song a much more melancholy, almost dreamlike feel. A very underrated Andrew Fletcher shines on the keyboards here. This section does a good job of fusing the old and the new so the song isn't a complete abandonment of their earlier style. That way, the song ended up bringing in a new wave of fans as well as giving the die-hards something as well.

(There's a great book out there called 'Scuse Me While I Kiss This Guy: And Other Misheard Lyrics. The title is a take on the lyric from "Purple Haze" by Jimi Hendrix. My entry would be from this song. Not nearly as funny as the Hendrix line, in this song I heard it as "Reach out and touch me." I don't feel too stupid, since that line works as well, but I am notorious for not really paying attention to lyrics and often making up my own if I can't understand them.)

Here's a link to the official video Depeche Mode did for Warner Bros.

0 Responses