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Depeche Mode

  • Speak And Spell
  • A Broken Flame
  • Construction Time Again
  • Some Great Reward

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    Depeche Mode

    construction time again a broken flame some great reward speak and spell

    Speak And Spell 7 ( 1981 )
    New Life / I Sometimes Wish I Was Dead / Puppets / Boys Say Go! / Nodisco / What's Your Name? / Photographic / Tora! Tora! Tora! / Big Muff / Any Second Now / Just Can't Get Enough / Dreaming Of Me*

    Depeche Mode formed in 1980 in Basildon, England. Originally a three piece band formed out of the ashes of punk, the arrival of Dave Gahan cemented the original four-piece lineup. At this stage in their career - imagine OMD, Ultravox, Kraftwerk and The Beatles. Well, the lyrics were not important in the early days, Vince Clarke admitting to just writing words that seemed to go together. It's something he would continue with, long after his tenure in Depeche Mode. Basically, a couple or three very catchy songs would cement Depeche Mode's position as a new prospect in the 'new wave'. It was exciting, I remember, we had brand new sounds! This was 'our' music, distinctly different to the rock and pop music of our parents.

    Ok, i've been listening to a lot of Depeche Mode to prepare for this page. I was thinking the other day that Depeche Mode albums have dated particularly well, although 'Speak And Spell' is perhaps the most dated sounding of anything they've produced to date. Their production and arranging methods seemed to expand exponentially throughout the 80s and 'Speak And Spell' of course is just the beginning of the journey. That's not to say it's an album without charm, of course. The first three Depeche Mode singles are here ( 'Dreaming Of Me' a bonus track excluded from the original UK LP release ) and still rank alongside the best Vince Clarke material. I like the way we've two or three very simple melodies interweaving, I like how very, very catchy and distinctive the melodies for 'Just Can't Get Enough' are, although this is a song that does become repetitive through repeated listens. Tracks eight and nine are the only Martin Gore compositions, Vince Clarke taking the lions share of the writing responsibilites. Neither track manages to be great shakes, but Gore's time would come. 'Boys Say Go!' sounds like a gay punk disco, very poor stuff, possibly the worst song on any Depeche Mode album. 'Nodisco' isn't much better, but at least doesn't have any embarassing yobbish chanting.

    No, the highlights are clearly the singles, but a couple of the albums tracks also pass muster. The strangely titled 'I Sometimes Wish I Was Dead' sports great Vince Clarke melodies shining and twinkling in the sunlight. 'Photographic' is all squeaky beats of the kind your Atari ST would produce circa 1988. The melodies are good though and the vocals smooth - the lyrics mere snapshots and words that evoke technology. 'Any Second Now' is also a highlight, good vocals again from the underrated Dave Gahan, and unsually for Vince Clarke, a more minimalistic set of beats and synth melodies. So, what does this all amount to? Well, a suprisingly charming album, even 'Nodisco' and 'Boys Say Go' at least have comedy value. Indeed, 'Speak And Spell' is the most upbeat Depeche Mode album of them all, or at least would be for quite some time.

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    Readers Comments

    Ricardo New York City
    Great Review. i've always been a fan of DM, and that comment you made saying DM albums age pretty well- spot on; If there is one New Wave Band that shouldn't cringe when looking back at their early days circa 1980 it's defenitly DM; and that's because of how edgy they've always been with their songwriting.

    Sean Umphlet NC City
    6/10, high 6 maybe 7 Dated and cheesy for sure... though "Puppets" and "New Life" are great songs. I'm surprised you didn't mention the cringe-worthy "What's Your Name?" what with the 'you're such a pretty boy! you're so pretty!' lines. yuck... lots of catchy hooks and melodies to be found, but sounds too much like it was produced entirely with a K-mart Casio keyboard...

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    A Broken Flame ( 1982 )
    Leave In Silence / My Secret Garden / Monument / Nothing To Fear / See You / Satellite / The Meaning Of Love / Further Excerpts From: My Secret Garden / A Photograph Of You / Shouldn't Have Done That / The Sun & The Rainfall

    Depeche Mode decided not to replace Vince Clarke at this stage and that move proved to be correct. With Daniel Miller as their producer in the studio, they didn't actually need Vince, Dan effectively took his place, in the studio, at least. Martin Gore stepped up to take over songwriting duties and to call the success or otherwise of this 2nd LP important is a massive understatement. It was sink or swim, having just lost the guy that penned the tunes. Well, you'd be worried too, wouldn't you? Overall, 'A Broken Flame' managed to continue the success both critically and commercially of Depeche Mode whilst developing their sound and the mood of their songs. It did all of this whilst also containing a then new single that even Vince Clarke himself had to admit was a development and really a rather fine thing. So it is then we arrive at 'See You', a top ten smash in the UK and still one of this listeners favourite Depeche Mode singles. The melodies interweave and overlap, two or three lead melody lines, each one simplicity itself. The vocals are hugely improved from anything 'Speak And Spell' contained, with Martin and Dave singing duel lead very effectively. The harmonies elsewhere are superb, the lyrics just sweet enough to maintain mystery and what more can you say really except that 'See You' is a classic tune. That it was written by Gore pre-depeche makes it all the more impressive.

    'A Broken Flame' feels like a more satisfying album than 'Speak And Spell' because the slower moments are more plentiful and actually seem to have a real purpose above and beyond just throwing something in purely for pacing. 'Satellite' for example is rather intriguingly sparse and gentle, yet with hints of meaning beyond the superficial technology-based wordings. 'Leave In Silence' was a serious sounding single from Depeche at this stage in their career, hinting at depths yet to come. 'Nothing To Fear' lacks vocals because? Well, they aren't needed, this catchy slice of synth music reveals the delight in melody and sounds Depeche Mode were revelling in. You can tell they enjoy doing this, which is quite seperate from their rather dour public image. Well, 'The Meaning Of Love' was a rather chipper, 'simple' single carrying on from the Vince Clarke days and the slight 'A Photograph Of You' is the albums only real weak-point. No, this is a good album, you can't deny it. Historically imporant and probably rather underrated in the grand Depeche Mode scheme of things.

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    Readers Comments

    Franco Peru
    I couldn't agree more with you on this album. An improvement over their first album! Nothing to fear is indeed a superb instrumental track, and whereas some of the songs are not exceptional, some lyrics subtly show the vital element in later DM compositions: reflections on life and relationships. Looking forward to more DM album reviews!

    Sean Umphlet NC City
    4/10 I actually think this is their worst album (Well I'm just listening to Exciter, and I think that might win out as their worst...), and maybe I shouldn't rate it so low, but the main problem is Gore is exploring the whole darkness thing, but they somehow FORGOT HOW TO WRITE CATCHY HOOKS AND MELODIES... they'll remember soon enough though.

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    Construction Time Again 8 ( 1983 )
    Love, In Itself / More Than A Party / Pipeline / Everything Counts / Two Minute Warning / Shame / The Landscape Is Changing / Told You So / And Then...

    Dave Gahan improves as a vocalist, Martin Gore improves as a writer and the arrival of Alan Wilder as technical expert/arranger improves almost everything. This was the around the time the Depeche Mode lads decided to get real sounds in the form of samples you wouldn't find elsewhere. So, they went around recording themselves banging various bits of metal and it's these sounds you hear in the likes of 'Pipeline' and it's these sounds that ensure 'Construction Time Again' sounds less dated than other albums of the era. Home to the hit singles 'Love, In Itself' and 'Everything Counts', it was the latter track more than any other that proved Depeche Mode could straddle both serious, weighty artistic issues and continue to have catchy pop hits. A massively popular song during the 80s, Martin Gore and Alan Wilder in particular combine well here. 'Grabbing hands, grab all they can' goes the chorus, a dig at corporate record labels? Well, Depeche Mode themselves were always very happy with the relaxed nature of their contract with Mute Records, so it certainly wasn't something they themselves had an issue with.

    'Pipeline' is a highlight, a somewhat moody piece and where Depeche Mode really got to grips with using found sounds. Six minutes of spookiness that flows brilliantly into the always excellent 'Everything Counts'. At the other end of the LP, 'The Landscape Is Changing' and 'Told You So' both seem lyrically irritating, a little too obvious, although the music is fine. Thankfully the closing 'And Then...' is a piece of class and together with the other 'Construction Time Again' highpoints proves definitely that Depeche Mode had escaped being seen as a Smash Hits pop act. Hard to believe it now, but a lot of those 80s new-wave/synth acts were dismissed all too easily by the rock press of the day. The same fate befell Depeche Mode, although albums such as this went some way towards them acheiving the longevity we now associate with them.

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    Some Great Reward 7 ( 1984 )
    Something To Do / Lie To Me / People Are People / It Doesn't Matter / Stories Of Old / Somebody / Master And Servant / If You Want / Blasphemous Rumours

    This was the album that broke Depeche Mode in America and it continues the experiments with samples and darker songwriting that Depeche Mode were to become known for. When viewing 'Some Great Reward' as an album rather than a bunch of songs plus hits, it falls down though when compared to 'Construction Time Again'. 'Some Great Reward' has arguably higher highlights yet the album tracks simply pale into comparison with the likes of 'Blasphemous Rumours' or the S&M tinged 'Master And Servant'. This mis-match is perhaps inevitable when you think about it, yet it does pin this album exactly to the time it was released. You remember the hits of course, fine things that they were and when you consider 'Singles 81-85' contains four tracks just from 'Some Great Reward', you think again perhaps that by making such a critiscm this reviewer is being unfair. Well, of course I am in the eyes of Depeche Mode fans, yet i'm viewing this from the context of having seen twenty-five odd years pass.

    Still, let's talk about those four songs that form the heart of this album. 'People Are People' was the Depeche Mode US breakthrough and has dated worse than almost everything else here, non-singles included. It's undeniably catchy when the chorus comes, yet the arrangement sounds clunky and clumsy and the 'people so awfully' line still manages to grate. 'Master And Servant' is far, far better. Superbly arranged, screaming out mid-eighties but it's hard not to get caught up in this song, plenty of melodies to go round, more than an entire Simple Minds album, for example. The piano led atmospherics of 'Somebody' still impress, Depeche Mode simply don't do this kind of self-confessional as well as they did here and arguably they haven't done it as well since. Finally then, 'Blasphemous Rumours' arrives, a giant of a song with easily the best lyrics of the entire LP. It's intriguing, it's catchy, the LP version a good deal longer than the single version I remember but still as good. These four songs prove Depeche Mode were moving forwards, yet the album tracks are almost to a man deeply unmemorable, and that wasn't the case with 'Construction Time Again'.

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    this page last updated 10/05/09

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