Depeche Mode had their first glimpse of fame with the enduring single, ‘I Just Can’t Get Enough’, which was predated by ‘Dreaming of Me’ and ‘New Life’, the latter of which featured in their Top of the Pops debut in 1981. This early material had Depeche Mode pigeonholed with the burgeoning synth-pop wave alongside contemporary acts like The Human League, Ultravox and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark.
The band made a notable departure from this pigeonhole throughout the 1980s as they began to show their true colours or lack thereof. Following their debut album, Speak & Spell, the Essex-based group held tight to their synthesisers but turned towards a darker, gothic sound thanks to their infatuation with The Cure and Siouxsie and the Banshees.
Through much of the ‘80s, Depeche Mode maintained a relatively peripheral presence in the UK charts. With Music for the Masses in 1987, they appeared to make headway with their sample-heavy style conjuring up popular hits like ‘Strangelove’ and ‘Never Let Me Down’, but it wasn’t until 1990, with Violator, that Depeche Mode soared to worldwide acclaim.
Violator saw the band transition from a salient alternative group of nationwide popularity to a stadium-filling worldwide sensation. Bolstered by the ‘Personal Jesus’ and ‘Enjoy the Silence’, which both entered the Top 10 in the US and UK, Violator has become a seminal classic that defines the truest sound of Depeche Mode.
Sadly, in May 2022, fans were met with the sad news of keyboardist and founding member Andy Fletcher’s death. At present, it is uncertain whether the surviving band members will continue without such an integral cog in their machine.
Today, we’re celebrating the band’s legacy and seminal back catalogue by picking out what we consider to be the six greatest Depeche Mode covers.
The six greatest Depeche Mode covers of all time
Johnny Cash – ‘Personal Jesus’
From suave rockabilly roots in the 1950s, the Man in Black remained a relevant and highly influential figure in the diverse world of rock ‘n’ roll right up to his death in 2003. Cash indulged in a scattering of cover songs over his final two albums as an ostensible farewell and stock take of musical development throughout his lifetime.
In 2002’s American IV: The Man Comes Around, Cash breathed new life into songs by The Beatles, Paul Simon, Sting and, most famously, Nine Inch Nails’. Also lurking on that final album was this fantastic cover of Depeche Mode’s 1990 classic ‘Personal Jesus’. Cash gives the track new warmth and intimacy with his acoustic reimagination.
Placebo – ‘I Feel You’
Placebo released an album of covers, aptly titled Covers, in 2003. The reimagined tracks paid tribute to some of the band’s most pivotal influences, including The Smiths, Kate Bush, Pixes and T. Rex. This blinding cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘I Feel You’ appears on the second side of the album.
The track was initially released on Depeche Mode’s 1993 album, Songs of Faith and Devotion. Placebo frontman Brian Molko gives the track a new edge with his unique vocal style while maintaining the rapturous energy of the original.
The Smashing Pumpkins – ‘Never Let Me Down Again’
‘Never Let Me Down’ originally appeared on Depeche Mode’s seminal 1987 album, Music for the Masses. The record saw the synth legends further exploring a sample-heavy sound following the previous year’s Black Celebration.
The Pumpkins well and truly smashed this cover out of the park. Released in 1994, this brilliant cover gives a nod of reverence to the original while adapting it with Billy Corgan’s bold vocal style and the band’s more traditional guitar-driven sound. In 1998, Depeche Mode frontman Dave Gahan told AllStar Magazine that he “particularly liked it” and thought it was “a lot better” than the original.
The Cure – ‘World In My Eyes’
Depeche Mode’s late keyboardist and founding member Andy Fletcher once picked out this Violator classic as a personal favourite. The album was an unprecedented success, lodging the band firmly in the stratosphere as a global sensation. Crowded out by the might of ‘Enjoy the Silence’, ‘Policy of Truth’ and ‘Personal Jesus’, ‘World in My Eyes’ was the album’s least successful single but still an absolute corker.
Joining Fletcher in the ‘World in My Eyes’ appreciation club is The Cure’s, Robert Smith. In this cover, the post-punk legends gave the song a weighty stamp of identity, although not one usually attributed to The Cure. The highly electrified and textured adaption was recorded for the 1998 tribute compilation For the Masses.V
ricky feat. Martina Topley-Bird – ‘Judas’
Tricky’s 1996 reimagination of Depeche Mode’s ‘Judas’ is highly recommended if you’re looking for a sound that takes a step beyond bleakness. The rattling drum rhythm takes the form of footsteps approaching from the dark fog of the ambient texturing throughout.
Tricky and Martina Topley-Bird duet whispered vocals, and where Depeche Mode brought a powerful crescendo to their 1993 original, this cover maintains a gloomy, oppressive soundscape with the addition of electric guitar layers toward the outro.
Bat for Lashes – ‘Strangelove’
‘Strangelove’ was originally released as the lead single for Music for the Masses. The lyrics are a subject of mixed interpretation, with some pointing out a connection to Stanley Kubrick’s 1964 dark comedy Dr Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. Elsewhere, the song appears to depict a sadomasochistic encounter.
Bat for Lashes recorded their take on the classic hit in 2012 for Gucci’s Guilty for Him fragrance advert. The cover updates the heavier original with a lighter, more ambient synth arrangement, while Natasha Khan offers poignantly fragile vocals.