10 Songs That Show Depeche Mode Are Synth-Pop Masters

No act has utilized the synthesizer with as much versatility and variety as Depeche Mode.
Martin Gore (left) and Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode
Martin Gore (left) and Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode Photo by Anton Corbijn
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After the electric guitar, no new instrument upended 20th-century popular music like the synthesizer. At first, the synth's sounds were used to create ambient, otherworldly soundtracks or for epic prog-rock concept albums. By around 1980, synthesizers grew more affordable and accessible, finding their way into almost every recording studio.

Perhaps no act has utilized the synthesizer with as much versatility and variety as Depeche Mode.

The British band formed in 1980 and, through its four-plus decades, has grown and matured with the instrument. The then-quartet (currently, Depeche Mode consists of Dave Gahan and Martin Gore) has gone from early basic beats that make you want to dance like a robot to broody soundscapes that make you want to contemplate the meaning of life.

Before Depeche Mode performs in Miami on Thursday, October 12, New Times looks back at the most interesting songs the band has synthesized into everyone's collective ears.

"Just Can't Get Enough"

The start of the 1981 single's music video teases the viewer with the song's simplicity. Surely, anyone could play this basic riff that we see anonymous fingers pounding into a keyboard whose structure has been stuck in the collective pop culture consciousness for 42 years. "Just Can't Get Enough," off the band's debut album Speak & Spell, gets more complex with two other synthesizers layering in beats, but it gives you a sense of the postpunk British music scene Depeche Mode was spawned from, where if a song wasn't simple it wasn't worth singing.

"Everything Counts"

Off the band's third album, Construction Time Again, "Everything Counts" would have you think Depeche Mode hired an orchestra. But that was the wonder of the synth. With the touch of a button, you could get the effects of a xylophone and a woodwind for no added cost. The song reeks of the '80s in the best possible ways, sounding like 8-bit music yet soulful.

"People Are People"

The 1984 hit was written by Gore, the band's primary songwriter, and served as the lead single for Depeche Mode's fourth album, Some Great Reward. "People Are People" was also the band's first hit in the U.S., helping them achieve mainstream success across the pond. The song's meaning is open to interpretation. It could be about the folly of war or the absurdity of racism. (Gore has publicly stated his dislike for the song in retrospect.) The song should still make you dance regardless of how you interpret the lyrics.

"Never Let Me Down Again"

From 1987's Music for the Masses came "Never Let Me Down Again," the second single off the album. The track always had a cinematic, larger-than-life vibe, which is probably why modern-day shows like Euphoria and The Last of Us use it to heighten the mood and let viewers know something life-altering is about to go down. 

"Personal Jesus"

Maybe you're more familiar with Johnny Cash's stripped-down cover of the song than the cowboy-versus-robot-sounding 1989 original. It's been said that the mark of good songwriting is if a song can be taken to another genre and still hold up, a trick that "Personal Jesus" accomplishes whether performed by the man in black or a synth-pop band in black.

"Enjoy the Silence"

I recently heard the 1990 classic on a local oldies station, and I found myself lost enough in the song's haunting beauty that I missed a turn I'd made a thousand times. The original demo for "Enjoy the Silence" was much more gothic,  sounding like a horror-movie piano ballad. Increasing the tempo helped make it a hit but didn't obstruct the depth of the lyrics.

"I Feel You"

Released in 1993, "I Feel You" was supposedly singer Dave Gahan's response to grunge, which was taking over rock radio at the time. It's one of the few Depeche Mode tracks where the guitar is given more importance than the synthesizer, yet it's far sexier than anything Nirvana or Pearl Jam would ever crank out. It feels more like the blueprint for the kind of blues rock that the White Stripes and the Black Keys would help popularize a decade later.

"John the Revelator"

Around the time Depeche Mode-influenced bands like Muse, My Chemical Romance, and the Killers were dominating the rock charts, the band released its 2005 album Playing the Angel, proving nobody does Depeche Mode better than Depeche Mode. With "John the Revelator," the band throws a hint of gospel into the synth-pop mix, giving the song a feeling both of timelessness and being extremely of its time.


Listeners usually assume the singer to be the songwriter, but that's not the case with Depeche Mode. Gore usually writes the words while Gahan interprets them. Released in 2005, "Precious" is an interesting case of how something new can be found through transference. Gore wrote this song to his children while facing a bitter divorce from his wife. From Gahan's mouth, however, it sounds like a romantic love song, as if he's trying to get a partner back in bed rather than trying to keep your kids out of therapy.

"Wagging Tongue"

Depeche Mode's 15th album, Memento Mori, is the first without founding member Andy Fletcher, who died in 2022, and is a concept album about dealing with mortality. The sorrowfulness of "Wagging Tongue" is leagues apart from the joyful playfulness of "Just Can't Get Enough." The only common thread, of course, is that ever-loyal synth.       

Depeche Mode. 7:30 p.m. Thursday, October 12, at Kaseya Center, 601 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; Tickets cost $44.75 to $224.75 via
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