Book Review: Halo – The Story Behind Depeche Mode’s Classic Album ‘Violator’ by Kevin May and David McElroy

It’s been a turbulent year for Depeche Mode fans. It started off on a high, following singer Dave Gahan’s solo concerts, and rumours of the band going back to the studio, only to crash down to the deepest of lows when founder member Andrew ‘Fletch’ Fletcher suddenly died of an undiagnosed heart condition aged 60 on the 26th May. Fans were still dealing with the grief of losing Fletch, and possibly the band in the process, when suddenly there were photographs on the band’s official social media of remaining members Dave Gahan and Martin Gore in the recording studio, followed by a press conference at the beginning of October, where a new album and tour were announced for 2023.

Therefore, the timing of the release of this book couldn’t be better, with all eyes are on the band again, but no new material forthcoming for a few months. It’s an account of the making of the band’s massively successful and influential album, ‘Violator’, released in March 1990.

Writers Kevin May and David McElroy are huge fans themselves, and this book has been a labour of love for them, the result of many years of interviewing everybody and anybody they could find who was involved in the creation of the album. The band are famously wary of publicity, and didn’t contribute to the book, but a vast number of people, from producers, mixers, engineers, but also video producers and editors, cover art designers and even pluggers are given the opportunity to recall the making of the album and the equally iconic videos, and their hugely important collaboration with photographer and director Anton Corbijn, which continues to this day. Mixed in with these recollections, space is given to some fans to tell their stories of their first listen to the album. I could easily imagine my own story having been included, reading the book led to me spending some time reminiscing about first hearing ‘Personal Jesus’, just after I moved to London, aged 18.

As a long-time fan myself I found the book fascinating, it’s got a wealth of technical information, which may not be for everyone, but it’s interspersed with enough titbits about other things that those sections don’t become skippable. A lot of background information is given about what the world was like in general, and what was in the charts at the time, to give context.  

The book is also a reminder of the importance of Alan Wilder to the production process. The band was still a 4-piece in 1988/89, Wilder left the band in 1995 after the notoriously excessive ‘Devotional’ tour (that story is worth a book in itself!), so it’s a reminder of more innocent times, a band arguably at the peak of their creative powers, on the cusp of moving from a poppy arena band to the stadium-filling pop and rock behemoth it is today. It’s just a shame they had to lose two members along the way…

In short: this book is essential reading for any Depeche Mode fan, and anyone interested in the process of what it used to take to get an album out there. Highly recommended! Can I persuade you to tell the story of ‘Songs of Faith and Devotion’ next, guys?

Halo: The Story Behind Depeche Mode’s Classic Album ‘Violator’ is out now, published by Grosvenor House Publishing

Find out more on the book’s official website

Review by Nicole Wevers

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