[…] Violator just stands as a moving, solid, record, a classic for the archives of popular music; it doesn’t so much carry a lot of the things that made Depeche Mode feel so much themselves. With 1987’s Music for the Masses, that stuff is all there— which makes the music both harder to ‘get’, from today’s perspective, and also more interesting. The Depeche Mode of this album is the one that brought together a rabid audience of trendy coastal kids and middle-American teens who got beat up over stuff like this— all of whom saw them not only as the peak of style, but as something positively revelatory, something speaking only to them (even in a crowded stadium), something alien and cool, disorientingly kinky, and entrancingly strange. For many, this was probably one of the first dance-pop acts they’d heard that didn’t seem to be entirely about being cool and having a good time; their music had been dark, clattery, and full of S&M hints and blasphemy, and on this record it reached a level of Baroque pseudo-classical grandness (see depressed-teenager shout-out ‘Little Fifteen’) that lived up to those kids’ inflated visions of the group.
Nitsuh Abebe on Depeche Mode’s Music for the Masses (published on Pitchfork, 2006)
I wanted to re-blog this again to point something out: if you’re starting out writing music criticism, study this. This is what you should be doing. Think about how music works, how it’s being received and what it means to people. This passage says a great deal about the music of Depeche Mode by having insight into how it functioned for their fans. It says nothing about what Martin Gore was going through when he wrote these songs; it doesn’t try to dissect the lyrics and de-code them, it doesn’t list what synths were used. It gets inside the music and figures out what it does, which is very hard but ultimately very rewarding. Because getting at that requires a great deal of empathy—you need to be able to stand in the shoes of the people who heard this music.