on 22 September 2010
There's a cuteness to this album that is so underrated. Think about it. We have depeche mode dressing up in dickie bow ties and suits, singing homoerotic lyrics, and dancing like nerds at a disco and all this just before they start wearing leather and shooting up. But they can be forgiven they were only Eighteen and in love with Bowie and Kraftwerk. It was the pop before the fizz. Depeche Mode definitely had a 'unique' start, looking over their 30 year-old career, the Basildon boys are a bigger live draw now than they ever were. This record, deriving many of its ideas from 60's harmonies and pop-rock, in turn went on to influence a host of artists and musical styles throughout the eighties, nighty's and girl bands of the noughtys. No fan of the 'dark' Mode could identify with much here, yet this album should be revered for what it is. It's a youthful, enthusiastic album, positively bouncing with energy, and explored a totally new attitude to producing music at the time.
New listeners cannot expect to hear this album quite the way their fans did at the time. With the band's 1981 debut, the increasingly adorable Speak & Spell, our distance from the original context actually makes things better. Of course, this is not the Depeche Mode we know: The songs on this album were written by Vince Clarke, who would shortly after leave the group and find fame with Yaz and Erasure. The sound is very different from what Depeche Mode would come to be and these of course, are the early days of synth-pop, these songs are building-block simple, bleepy and discoid, and the band sounds as gawky and adolescent as Dave Gahan looked. But we must remember a modern day vending machine has more microprocessor software than these early synthesizers ever had.
Like OMD, Gary Numan and early Human League they thought their brand of guitar-less synthpop was the future, it was naivety at it's purest. We have Dave Gahan singing like a teenage boy deeply in love and having the time of his life. Almost every track is catchy and infectious. Sure it sounds dated when you compare it with today's music but these guys were so young and technology wasn't as advanced as they thought. This record wears '80's cheese on its sleeve. If you're used to associating Depeche Mode with "gloom" and the like, be prepared to get startled! None of that is in Speak & Spell, Depeche Mode's first album. The band was probably aware of it and while the record wasn't well received particularly by them at the time, it gets a kinder reputation in later years. That's because even if every song from Violator is better than what's on here, they hadn't reached that level yet.
Even so, you get the ultra-catchy love song "Just Can't Get Enough," boppy and bouncy more than what you remember from them, yet excellent in its execution. The song may seem goofy for some, as it does sound like it when you hear Dave repeating "I just can't get enough" so many times in a row. But this was the 80's with a great sense an underground electronic vibe. I find it more consistent and enjoyable than some of their most acclaimed albums, but as I have mentioned in reviews music represents a snapshot in time and in rare cases perfectly capture the ambience and the mood.
This is fun if you can accept that DM began as a cheesy synth pop band and didn't emerge fully formed as the behind-the-curve industrial doom-mongers they now are. As with many 80s pop LPs, by which I mean the sort 14 year old girls might have bought at the time, this LP is the lightest and fluffiest Depeche album that you will come in contact with. Its upbeat, happy, and danceable (yes we are talking about Depeche Mode here). Their sound here is definitely plain with raw minimalist synth pop edge to it, the darkness isn't really there and it does sound a little cheesy but that is pretty much where the charm comes from. I remember seeing these guys on Top of the pops (1981) and thinking to myself they looked more like bank clerks or estate agents, furthermore there were no guitars - Hey I can do that, but as always it wasn't as simple as that even with my portable Casio synthesiser to which I could play the theme to Star Wars.
Back in the day Depeche Mode, were over looked as fodder for little girls, but in fairness they weren't always the great band that produced albums like Violator, Black Celebration and Some Great Reward. They came from rather humble beginnings, (Essex boys playing Truant from school) and on Speak & Spell sound like a totally different group. On later albums, their music had a Gothic flare, but that isn't really anywhere in sight. Most of Speak and Spell is listenable even if the majority of the songs aren't remarkable. It's easy to listen to this album and laugh. The keyboards are dated, the lead singer sounds ten years younger than he was (Gahan was 18 at the time) and the lyrics are nonsensical. Yet listen carefully, and you'll see why this album was so influential and important to the musical scene at the time.
'New Life' is representative of most of the album, in that it's energetic, youthful, upbeat, and still sounds ridiculously fresh after all these years. As mentioned above, the lyrics "I stand still stepping on a shady street/And I watch that man to a stranger" make absolutely no sense at all; they were chosen for phonetic value only; syllables that just seemed to fit the music.
The real climax of this album is 'Just Can't Get Enough'. You shouldn't need me to introduce you to this one. Bubblegum-pop in its purest form, it's constructed from deceptively multi-layered synths, and bounces along nicely enough. It's so catchy, it's very close to annoying.
The unfortunately most people are unaware of how far the band have come since this naive but enjoyable album...
on 12 March 2002
When this album first appeared in 1981, DM were being pitched against Human League, Ultravox, and Soft Cell. Unfairly, this album was considered the weakest of the lot, but in truth DM were doing different things. Notably is the Clarke influence (soon to team up with Alison Moyet), which ensured commercial success with "New Life" and "Just Can't Get Enough." But the real gems are "Photographic" and "Any Second Now." The CD is of high quality but a shame the record company has not blessed us with a copy of the outstanding original artwork/front cover. Had it done so, then '5 Star' rating would have been given here. "Speak and Spell" is worthy of it's shelf space against the aforementioned groups.
on 20 March 2004
Bought this on vinyl when it was first released, after having listened to the band on 'real' late night radio, Peel and Nightingale.
I loved the album back then and now 20'ish years later I still love it. It's just such good pop at face value but when you listen to the music and hear the words its no wonder this band are still about today. They've earned their stripes, now go buy this album and be entertained.................
on 22 December 2007
Enjoyable surround mix, which reveals some synth lines I hadn't noticed before. This brings a freshness to some songs that now sound a bit flat in simple stereo. Not always what I'd have put on the extra channels - maybe missed a trick or two here - but this is a subjective opinion, and I'm very glad they've been done at all. It was worth the effort guys.
My only complaint, and this is almost enough to lose a star, is the amount of songs on the SACD/CD - 12, not the 16 that were on CD. Was there not enough space (unlikely, I have SACDs that last much longer) or is it some obscure copyright reason concerning the format?
However, the four missing tracks are on the DVD - and remixed to surround sound as well (DTS and Dolby). Why complain? Well, my main Hi-Fi is in my bedroom - along with my computer; it's in effect my office - and the surround system is in the lounge, along with the TV, so playing the SACD/CD disc on my CD player I'd only get the 12 tracks. I have the original CD with 16 tracks so it is not a problem, but a simple question - why the discrepancy?
The disc redeems itself with a very interesting documentary - in widescreen, yaayyy! - which interviews all the main players including Daniel Miller of Mute, an unsung hero in British electronic music development.
on 1 March 2002
1981 was the year when synth pop really arrived and took over the UK charts. Even today Human League's "Dare" and Soft Cell's "Non Stop Erotic Cabaret" are considered to be classic synth pop albums of the early 80's. DM's "Speak & Spell" should also be included...after all DM have lasted the course much healthier than either Soft Cell or Human League.
Yes, it can sound a little dated now and really bears no resemblance to the DM we know and love today. Much of that is due to the fact that the most of the album was penned by the soon-to-depart Vince Clarke (of Yazoo and Erasure fame).
However, tracks like the singles "New Life" and "Just Can't Get Enough" really show why DM were at the forefront of electronic pop. Upbeat and catchy these were both big hits even if the lyrics were total nonsense that no one apart from Clarke seemed to understand.
The pop vein is continued by the excellent "Boys Say Go", "I Sometimes Wish I Was Dead" (which I first heard on pre-album flexidisc (are these still made?)) and irritating "What's Your Name?" (which allegedly is about the pop pinup of 1981, Adam Ant!!!).
However, 20+ years on it's the moodier tracks which capture the attention. "Puppets" is a lovely and emotional slower moment whilst "Photographic" is still considered a classic piece of DM.
Martin Gore chipped in with "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and schoolboy smirk inducing "Big Muff" but it's fair to say he was to go on to write much better stuff.
All in all, this is an album that sounds and reflects the very forefront of electro-pop and should be in the CD collection of anyone serious about DM or electronic music.
My only grumble is that the CD cover only shows a portion of the original vinyl cover. That swan in a polythene bag mesmerised me as a 13 year old in 1981!!!
on 19 May 2006
Early 80s synth pop at its very best. Sure, DM fell into drugs and debauchery later on (and produced some of their finest material as a result), but the sheer nostalgia for those of us there at the time shines through on this fine reworking of their debut album.
I don't have 5.1 or DTS, so to me it just sounds so much cleaner without all the Rice Krispy noises in the background. The vocals are clearer and much more pronounced, which emphasises Gahan's nasal twang.
But the coup de grace is the video that completes Disc 2 - Do We Have To Give Up Our Day Jobs? Looking at the spoiled brats signed for millions on the strength of a single rap these days, the deliberations (which, thankfully, include interview footage with Vince Clarke) of whether they could get out of Top Of The Pops in time to get the bus back for the night shift brings that whole era into sharp focus. If Daniel Miller hadn't been so persistent, who knows how long they would have lasted?
Bring on the rest of the back catlogue!
on 20 June 2010
ooh..oooh..ooohh.. the complete ecstacy of this powerful little package; a work totally reborn in the surround format. All the songs have been given new life, excuse the pun, and deliver a fresh aural assault. I didnt think the original album could be bettered, but here it is, resplendent in a cornucopia of formatting, and even a mini documentary thrown in. For what you get the price is outstanding, well done amazon... many DM fans, and the band themselves, tend to shun this mainly vince clarke penned vehicle; but in my eyes it should be celebrated as a tour de force in synth pop, it is of its time and even today stands up well against any modern pretenders to the synth pop throne, and admit it who doesnt join in when Just cant get enough is rolled out on the radio or at a disco...
There are many who cant get into the surround treatment of classic, or contemporary albums,but for me it has only offered an enhanced dynamic, a true audiophile joy.. each to their own, but i relish the opportunity to immerse in the 5.1 soundscape.. I can also recommend the other DM albums in these formats.. go on you know you want to... mmmmmmmmm
on 13 February 2007
I have been a fan of DM for over 25 years now and have most of their albums now. I just love this album. The first one from one of the greatest bands around. Everbody knows and loves "Just Can't Get Enough" and "New Life" - catchy! Another favourite of mine being Tora Tora Tora -great song, great vocals. David Gahan has a remarkable voice and over the years their songs have got darker and deeper so this is a nice album to put on and listen to if you don't want to listen to the usual DM moodiness. Great, fantastic! I'm finding myself singing along in my head to Just Can't Get Enough as I speak!!
Ive already written a review for a broken frame and all I can say is...natch.
yet again, with the 5.1 mixes, Ive noticed that some of the synth leads in some songs have had a bit of tinkering- poss use of fixed filter bank or something, and extra bits of delay et al here and there- but the overall effect makes everything sound almost contemporary. Listen to the vast difference in the moog prodigy guitar-esque lead used in photographic. Or the totally different use of seperation technology and mix balancing for every song. Like everything else that ever gets remixed in 5.1, you need a very good set of ears and an ability to not overcook the egg(s), which yet again as daniel miller supervised, thankfulyl meant that these 26 year old songs havent been.
The enclosed documentary and sacd version just put more layers and icing on the cake. Ive got all the remasters in original form and having been a fan of the band since i was 7 year old innocent, all i can say is that marketing glitz aside, even this, their first album, sounds incredible in 5.1.
on 6 January 2010
Depeche Mode performed at my secondary school in 1981,
I found it hard to live with the volumn of sound but
throughout the last 35 years they're my favourite group
and I've got all their albums.
This album is awash with catchy songs and immaculate
timing of rhythm changes (a trademark of Depeche Mode
through there entire history).
All but two of the songs are written by Vince Clarke
before he jumped ship to create Yazoo.
Some of the best tracks are 'New Life' - 'Puppets' -
'Nodisco' - 'Photographic' & 'Tora Tora Tora'.
Even though it's 2010 now, no other group or album
has a sound like 'Speak & Spell'.
If you want to hear something unique and special
from an age before mobile phones,MP3 players,Laptops
IPods and todays technically advanced music recording
equipment then I recommend this album.
Press your order button 'ANY SECOND NOW' !