CD Review: Depeche Mode

Depeche Mode
Speak and Spell
By David Chiu

Depeche Mode’s debut album inaugurated not only electro pop but it also created an empire. A lot of ‘80s bands followed Depeche’s footsteps with synthesizer-driven singles only to fall into obscurity shortly after; on the other hand, Depeche Mode’s popularity continues to grow with an ever loyal and fervent young fandom. It speaks volumes about how Depeche Mode’s dark yet catchy music really connects with us. After all, people are people…why should it be? Hard to believe that the band is also 25 years old.

Although Depeche Mode would eventually make spectacular music from Black Celebration on, its beginnings were pretty modest starting with the 1981 debut album. The technology and synths on that record might sound quirky and dated by today’s standards; yet the infectious melodies, courtesy of chief songwriter Vince Clarke, sink under your skin. You’d be lying if you weren’t at least moving your head to “New Life” or “Dreaming of Me,” two of three Depeche’s classic singles on the album; the other, the galloping “Just Can’t Get Enough” has grown to be an ’80s anthem of sorts, though Depeche’s later songs wouldn’t be this sentimental as this (“What’s Your Name” sounds cheesy but it’s a guilty pleasure too)

It’s not to say all of the material on Speak and Spell is lightweight and fey—tracks like the subversive “Puppets,” the creepy and pulsating “Photographic,” and “Tora! Tora! Tora!” offer hints of the somber hits to come.

Just as the band was starting to make its mark, Clarke left to form Yaz and then later Erasure; he’s since emerged as a brilliant (electropop) tunesmith. That left the songwriting duties up to Martin Gore who would prove so integral to Depeche’s vision and eventual direction. It’s somewhat of shame this record doesn’t get as much recognition as future classics Music for the Masses and Violator because all of the ingredients of Depeche Mode’s success can be heard on Speak and Spell.

This deluxe reissue not only contains the original album remastered but it also contains a DVD version in 5.1 and stereo as well as a documentary that includes not only interviews with the current members of the band but also Vince Clarke (kudos, but doesn’t mention why he left the group). The die-hard fans probably have the additional tracks already such as “Ice Machine” and “Any Second Now” but those also on here as well.


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