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  • Writer's pictureBenjamin Kassel

"Enjoy the Silence": fitting music for an ironic title

Depeche Mode's most successful song is an inner monologue, formed in a moment when the outside world is quiet.


Just over a week ago, I wrote of the irony present in the cultural positioning of Robyn's "Dancing On My Own," given its title. Tonight, I'm thinking about the self-contained irony of another electronic pop track from a couple decades earlier... and how the track overcomes and/or embraces it.


As I discussed very early on in this Senior Year Soundtrack project with INXS' "Never Tear Us Apart," silence is rarely utilized in popular music, and when it is, it's often in a very clichéd manner. However, today's topic song approaches silence very differently — no stop-and-start moments are to be found; instead, silence is in the song's title and is central to its lyrical theming. Now that spin on silence is musical irony manifest.


You may think that such a narrative approach and the irony it breeds would condemn a track to be unfulfilling or unbecoming its name. Yet I do't hear that as being the cast at all in "Enjoy the Silence." Rather, I hear Depeche Mode manage to capture an inner monologue on silence and what it means in a tender moment.

While learning about "Enjoy the Silence" a couple months back, I came across another blog which had on it a review from 1990 that called the track "Understated and, golly gosh, utterly pleasant." I very much like the use of the word "understated" to describe guitarist Martin Gore's writing and Depeche Mode and Flood's production. It isn't minimalist, but it's far from maximalist, and considering how easy and common it is for mainly electronic productions to go in that latter direction, a more reserved approach is very welcome. It also allows for each new element to feel more impactful, as it's taking up more of the sonic space relative to a busier production. Depeche Mode, along with contemporaries New Order (who I plan to feature before the end of my Senior Year Soundtrack), understood this aspect of their alt-dance rock style as well as anyone, and that sense of their music helps them convey emotions with greater weight.


The band's understanding of their song's layers sets the groundwork for "Enjoy the Silence" to be memorable, a job that's then completed by Dave Gahan's lyrical treatment. Before even getting into the lyrics, from a big-picture perspective I appreciate the lengthy gaps Gahan leaves between his vocal sections given the song's title. In the single version of the song (different from the video cut), over 57% of "Enjoy the Silence" consists of four instrumental sections, the shortest of which clocks over 20 seconds for 10 measures. Embodying the name they chose for the song — which is only sung by Gahan at the end of the video version and before an interlude on the album cut from Violator — Depeche Mode stretch the typical four- and eight-measure structure of popular music to give more time to the instrumental.


As for the lyrics themselves, I hear them as Gahan's narrator talking silently to himself, wanting a silent, tender moment with his lover to last forever. With all the triviality of words, which "like violence break the silence," it's nonverbal gestures that have the ability to show how one truly feels. Upon finding (or coming home to) the love he's sought, the narrator longs to stay in that pure romantic state, as he thinks / Gahan sings:

All I ever wanted
All I ever needed is here in my arms
Words are very unnecessary
They can only do harm

Yes, there are darker interpretations of the song — some hearing the whole thing as a drug metaphor, some relating more to Anton Corbijn's beautiful music video — but I truly hear "Enjoy the Silence" as a reflection on the sanctity of those quiet moments. In this manner, the entire piece of music is one heard in the narrator's head. The music builds to fill the outward silence, with the chord changes soundtracking the narrator's thoughts. When he thinks of the harm words can do, the chord changes to one outside the key in E-flat minor... but soon, the peace of the moment sets back in, and so do the chords and the reassuring lyrics.


I think of "Enjoy the Silence" as being the other (and better) side of the 'silence song' coin from "The Sound of Silence." Whereas Simon & Garfunkel sang of the inability to communicate, Dave Gahan and Depeche Mode presented silence as being more powerful than speech. Even with how loquacious I am, I find "Enjoy the Silence" the more compelling number by a long shot. Sure, I talk a lot (read: way too much) when I'm excited, but when I'm most at peace, I'm quiet, admiring the state in which I find myself. I think that's a sort of existence we all try to reach, but rarely do, so when we get there it becomes all the more satisfying to be silent and appreciate those moments.

 

Postscript — "reinterpretation": A couple good covers and alternate versions of "Enjoy the Silence" are out there. Italian gothic metal outfit Lacuna Coil released a cover in 2006, among others, but my favorite take on the tune other than the original is one I forgot existed until a couple days ago. When Depeche Mode were putting together Remixes 81–04 in 2004, they employed Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda to "reinterpret" "Enjoy the Silence." Shinoda's remix fits right in with "Numb" and other songs from his band's Meteora era, and it makes me wish Linkin Park had done the version live at some point.


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