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.
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.
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.