Speak And Spell

Depeche Mode

Sire, 1981


REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith


With a healthy dose of British irony, Depeche Mode gave a wink and nod bidding farewell to the disco era with their debut Speak & Spell.

Hell, there’s even a kiss-off song called “Nodisco” that is part of the overall package. It’s almost as if the statement they were trying to make at the time was “Thank you for the memories, Giorgio Moroder and company, but now we’re going to steal your electronic instruments and create an entirely new genre of music.”

Whether you call what they come up with alternative, synth-pop or new wave, Depeche Mode was one of the very first acts with the cojones big enough to use nothing but the synthesizer -- as well as wear liberal amounts of makeup -- in their formative years. The song “What’s Your Name” plays up this fun period with the line “Hey, you’re such a pretty boy.”  They may look and sound like poofs, but they’re not -- psych!

Once MTV came onto the scene, the American music industry would be turned into a veritable image factory -- something that must have been Depeche Mode’s designated leader Vince Clarke’s biggest nightmare. An introvert by nature, Vince eventually would find the accompanying media onslaught too much to bear.  my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

So, after this one album with the band, Vince Clarke gave his notice and headed for greener pastures in the form of Erasure, which he formed with the openly gay Andy Bell -- someone the press probably wouldn’t go near with a ten foot pole. Erasure would never experience the mass adulation that Depeche Mode has, though that is exactly how Vince prefers it. The poor soul would never have survived DM’s Rose Bowl experience.

But who would have predicted that Depeche Mode would even get that far? Speak & Spell was a success, but only a modest one compared to the albums that would come years later. Aside from the light exposure on MTV, only college and alternative radio stations would play Depeche Mode’s music over here in the early '80s. The first two cuddly and cute singles, “Dreaming Of Me” and “New Life,” were all but overlooked in favor of the edgy sounds of “Just Can’t Get Enough” and “Nodisco.” For the more adventurous souls, the dark atmospheric track “Photographic” could also be found on the previously released compilation album,  Some Bizarre.

As much as there is to enjoy on Speak & Spell, the two men who would be propelled to the forefront of the group once Vince left are barely recognizable here. David Gahan’s lead vocal is completely washed out on most of the tracks, while Martin Gore’s two contributions “Tora! Tora! Tora!” and “Big Muff” sound downright inferior when compared to Vince Clarke’s work.  It would take a lot of hard work and experimenting to soldier on without Vince and several more albums to solidify the band's formula enough to get American airplay (though it didn’t hurt that they were signed to Sire Records, the hippest of all U.S. record labels).

Co-produced by Daniel Miller, Speak & Spell is one of those symbolic albums that was at the forefront of the second British invasion of America.  The synth torch would essentially be passed on from the Bee Gees and Donna Summer to Depeche Mode and Duran Duran, heralding in a new decade and a fresh, exciting approach to the way music should not only be heard, but experienced.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2007 Michael R. Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Sire, and is used for informational purposes only.