Monday, June 12, 2006

Depeche Mode: Speak & Spell [Deluxe Double Edition] (Reprise/Sire/Mute/Rhino)
release: originally 1981, reissued June 6, 2006
styles: Synth Pop, New Romantic
similar: OMD, Soft Cell, Erasure, Human League
rating: ****

The Depeche Mode on Speak & Spell, the band's debut album, was a very different Depeche Mode. Casual listeners of the band's later work (Music for the Masses, Violator, Songs of Faith and Devotion) will never suspect that the bouncy upbeat synth pop came from the same artist. In a way, it didn't, given that early member Vince Clarke was the primary songwriter. Add to that Dave Gahan's still-boyish vocals and the difference is evident. Although its direction didn't fully shift for a couple more albums, Speak & Spell remains Depeche Mode's fresh, bright-eyed entry into the world. "Just Can't Get Enough" is of course the best known track here, but allow that to be the starting point here, even if it is the catchiest. "New Life" and "What's Your Name?" are rich with harmonies and romance, "Dreaming of Me" is one of the prettiest songs they've ever done and "Puppets" isn't much different from a lot of today's electro. Gahan's vocals have some trouble on "Tora! Tora! Tora!" and "Nodisco" includes the lyrics "move me disco, baby don't you let go" but considering what was around in 1981, there's little reason to complain. The serious fan will be more excited about the DVD, which features rare b-sides and an insightful 30-minute film about the beginnings of the band and the recording of Speak & Spell via interviews with band members, producers and other key players. The best of course is the early live footage when they wore biker hats. -Kenyon says go!

note: deluxe editions of Music for the Masses and Violator also reissued June 6.

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