Depeche Mode
Speak And Spell



by Stephen Gore USER (43 Reviews)
December 21st, 2006 | 11 replies

Release Date: 1981 | Tracklist

Review Summary: In the beginning, there was...bubblegum?

Depeche Mode definitely had a 'unique' start. Looking over their 25 year-old career, the Basildon boys are a bigger live draw now than they ever were. They do seem to have some of the most obsessive fans in the business, and their concerts are legendarily epic and passionate. But in the beginning (DM's roots can be traced back to 1977, when Fletch and Clarke were in a band called 'No Romance In China'), Vince Clarke was the guy in the driving seat.

Vince Clarke. Perhaps not a household name, but he was behind Yazoo (with Alison Moyet) and later Erasure (Andy Bell). In 1980 though, he was the Mode's chief songwriter, when they were known as Composition Of Sound (Pretentious? Moi?). In fact, he also sang in the band's ultra-early incarnations. Martin Gore was enlisted because he was the only kid on the block with a new toy (a Moog keyboard). Dave Gahan happened to sing Bowie's "Heroes" at a jam session and the rest, as they say, is history.

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' kicks off in full after about 30 seconds. It's 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. Meanwhile, Clarke's influences can clearly be seen at the end of the track, when all members harmonize in a carbon-copy of the end to the Beatles 'Twist And Shout'. 'I Sometimes Wish I Was Dead' (nice title!) is even cheerier, despite the name, with a twisted springy synth sound after each chorus and upbeat tempo.

'Puppets' may indeed be the first 'proper' Mode track, though Gore didn't write it. It's a suitably downbeat look at addiction to drugs, yet with a catchy Clarke synth-hook.
'Boys Say Go!' is quite anthemic, and contains some good background synths, exhibiting a touch of menace, as does 'Nodisco', possibly titled in a reference to Vince's punk roots?

Oh dear. It's my dubious pleasure to introduce you to the cheesiest, campest track DM have ever made. 'What's Your Name?' uses the words "Hey you're such a pretty boy/You're so pretty" as its main chorus. The harmonies are textbook Beach Boys, right down to the " P-R-E-double-T-Y" hook. It might cheer you up if you need a good laugh, but it has to be said: it's the worst Depeche Mode track ever.

Yuk. Good job 'Photographic' was stuck here after it, otherwise the fans might have taken the tape out and burnt it (this was before CDs). 'Photographic' is like a classic Numan track, with all the menace but none of the rigidity; this song flows very nicely and still sounds stark. It's followed by Martin Gore's first ever contributions, 'Tora! Tora!Tora!' (a great quirky song with cool synth effects at the end of each verse) and 'Big Muff' (named after a foot pedal on a keyboard. So they say,,,), a rather funky instrumental.

'Any Second Now' is a crystalline ballad, with twinkly synths, yet still it's nonsense in a lyrical sense. Pretty and effective for all that, though. It's the first ever song with Gore on lead vocal. But 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. As more than one reviewer has noted, it's so catchy, it's very close to annoying. Yet it's very much a record of its time. The unfortunate result, though, is that most people are unaware of how far the band have come since this naive but enjoyable track...

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. 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. Vince was soon to leave, and the band would soon carve out their own identity, but Speak And Spell remains a album apart from the rest.

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user ratings (225)
other reviews of this album
Major Tom (4)
Unlike any other Depeche Mode album, it remains a charming piece of early synth-pop, despite featuri...

KovenantDM (4)
A charming look at Depeche Mode's old style and their humble beginnings. Good pop music with nice ar...

Comments:Add a Comment 
December 22nd 2006


Wow, pretty impressive review for someone as new as you.
Keep em coming :thumb:

June 29th 2008


Album Rating: 2.5

God the old DM is soooooooooooooo effing bad.

July 29th 2009


lol dad has this on vinyl!

July 29th 2009


Album Rating: 3.0

If it's in pristine condition, there's a probably a few hardcore German collectors that would be willing to pay quite a bit for that

July 21st 2011


Album Rating: 3.0

Vince Clarke seemed a natural pop songwriter from the get-go - "Dreaming Of Me", "New Life" and "Just Cant Get Enough" were instant chart hits. But more often than not his songwriting has lacked the depth and passion that Martin Gore would later flourish with. Speak And Spell was a very interesting start for Depeche Mode but if Clarke had stayed i dont think they would be the electro-rock stadium legends they are today. I rarely listen to anything of the band's pre-Some Great Reward output, its too lightweight and childlike and i cant help thinking of this record as Erasure with Dave Gahan on guest vocals.

September 23rd 2011


love this

fuck the haters

September 24th 2011


Album Rating: 3.0

Puppets and Photographic are some often-overlooked Mode classics. Dark and catchy. I just wish Vince hadn't written What's Your Name

September 24th 2011


have you heard Absolute Body Control?

everyone who digs this album to some small degree should check this out

February 14th 2012


Album Rating: 1.5

This is far and away the worst Depeche Album.Thank heavens Martin replaced Vince Clark! A Truly

terrible album with the exception of "New life", "Tora Tora Tora" and "Dreaming of me".

"Photographic" is passable the other tracks are cringe worthy rubbish. The track "sometimes I wish I

was dead" was probably inspired by the realisation of how bad "boys say go" and "What's your name"


"just cant get enough" maybe one of modes biggest hits but for me it one of their worst!

Ice machine" is interesting but if my memory serves me right is not featured on the early releases

of this album.

August 10th 2016


This is way underrated

Digging: Madonna - Ray of Light

August 10th 2016


Album Rating: 2.5 | Sound Off

Some great tracks for sure.

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