Spanning four decades, Depeche Mode has experienced two significant changes in band members, first with the departure of founding member and synthpop pioneer Vince Clarke in 1981 and second, the departure of Alan Wilder in 1995.
Equally, these former band members had distinct influences on the overall sound of Depeche Mode; but given the brief time that Vince was in the band, the unique sound of the album that he contributed to, Speak And Spell, is often chalked up to being the band’s debut album (rather than an album creatively driven by Clarke, who would later move on to spearhead projects such as Yazoo/Yaz and Erasure). Contrarily, Alan’s work with Depeche lasted 13 years and he contributed both classical musical training and ingenuity at a time in DM history when the band recorded some of their most beloved hits. On the 20th anniversary of Depeche Mode without Alan Wilder, it is the perfect time to reflect on the overall contribution his work has made to the Depeche Mode sound that was popularized during the height of the band’s success.
When I first discovered Depeche Mode, Violator was a chart-topping album due to the popularity of hits such as Personal Jesus, Enjoy The Silence and Policy Of Truth. Recently I purchased a digital copy of Violator including all of the singles that were released at the time (Depeche fans know that collecting every song they have ever released can be a challenge). Listening to the album in its entirety for the first time in a few years, I believe Violator is still one of their best to date, and Alan is very much a part of the album’s success. Since Alan left the band, I have attended a few of DM’s Toronto shows and I have a sizable DM music collection (including a few rarities). Over the years Depeche Mode has cultivated a unique style and they always deliver a fantastic live performance, filling large venues as a result. After Alan, it is not so much that the band’s music has changed per se, it is more that his lack of presence is simply – noted. During the years that he was Depeche Mode’s classically trained secret weapon, he gave us some really memorable music and his contributions should not be forgotten amidst the massive DM catalogue.
In honour of the second member to exit Depeche Mode, here is a list of some of the best tracks that demonstrate Alan Wilder’s impact:
Two Minute Warning – Alan is credited with writing this track from 1983’s Construction Time Again – it is full of industrial sounds and hints of what Alan would later accomplish post-DM with his follow up project, Recoil.
If You Want – in 1984 Some Great Reward was released, this Alan Wilder track was second last on the album, succeeded only by the epic fan-favourite Blasphemous Rumours. Once again, industrial samples are present on this track.
Somebody – also from Some Great Reward, Alan played piano on this popular Depeche Mode track written by Martin L. Gore.
Everything Counts – Alan demonstrates his extensive musical talent by playing oboe on this early DM hit from Construction Time Again.
Enjoy The Silence and the Violator album– one of the band’s most successful songs from the Violator album released in 1990, demonstrates Alan’s influence over the entire record – Alan’s experimentation with a darker sound is likely what made this song so popular and has caused this album to resonate with fans to this day.