Depeche Mode – when they were good

Depedche_mode_speak_spell
It’s hard to take Depeche Mode seriously. Here at PopJunkie, we can remember when the Basildon lads were twee synth-pop twerps, rather than the humourless goth rock overlords who are currently straddling the international album charts.
To be brutally honest (doesn’t that sound like a DM song title?), we actually preferred The Mode when ‘80s knob-twiddler Vince Clarke was onboard and they were making records like Speak & Spell.

It all went downhill when he left. One minute Depeche Mode were playing Essex nightclubs and the next they were selling out stadiums and performing dark, depressing anthems to scary German blokes with inadequate social skills, long leather coats and industrial-strength hair gel. Where did it all go wrong?

The band’s 1981 debut album, Speak & Spell, (love that title), is a supreme example of minimalist electronic pop, most of which was penned by Clarke. Its ‘Essex boys do electro’ sound is far more believable than the pervy sadomasochistic fantasies and God bothering guff that Depeche Mode have been churning out to foreign exchange students for the last few years.
Personal Jesus? Pah, we prefer the deeply existential I Sometimes Wish I Was Dead – “dancing with you all the time, don’t you think that it’s a crime?” Genius – and if that’s not enough, it’s also got dodgy synth drums and Jonah Lewie style backing vocals.

Like the sound of that? Then check out the robotic Puppets (“I’ll be your operator baby, I’m in control"), which is basically Kraftwerk in white stilettos, gay disco anthem Boys Say Go! (the Mode invent acid house) and the cheeky romp What’s Your Name – “hey, you’re such a pretty boy – P.R.E.T.T.Y!” – it’s so camp it makes Erasure sound like System Of A Down.

We’d also recommend the throbbing groove of Photographic, the Europop of Nodisco and the bleepy instrumental Big Muff – just for the title alone.
Speak & Spell is a long-forgotten ’80s pop classic that deserves to be seen as a groundbreaking, influential recording, rather than a dodgy debut album by one of the world’s biggest rock bands.
We just can’t get enough of it!

Depeche Mode – Speak & Spell  1981 (Mute)

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One Response to “Depeche Mode – when they were good”

  1. D.B. PARKES Says:

    IT IS VERY NICE TO SEE EARLY DEPECHE BEING LAUDED,BOTH HERE AND IN THE “SERIOUS”(I.E PIOUS/WANKY/RETROCENTRIC) MUSIC PRESS. BUT…THE FACT IS THAT THIS AND THEIR SUBSEQUENT RECORDS UP UNTIL THE MID-EIGHTIES WERE REGULARLY BRANDISHED AS A VERITABLE TALISMAN BY THOSE WHO WISHED US NEVER TO TAKE THE MODE SERIOUSLY(YET WOULD LAUD BLUE RONDO A LA TURK AND ANY AMMOUNT OF RIGHTEOUS POLITICAL PISH). THEY WERE FAR TOO UNSELFCONSCIOUS FOR THE CRITICAL SET IN THOSE DAYS…FAR TOO SUBURBAN…FAR TOO “UNSUBTLE” IN THE POP MELODY DEPARMENT.
    THE RECORD ITSELF CONTAINS SOME REAL GEMS(MARTIN GORE ACTUALLY WROTE TWO OF THE BEST..”BIG MUFF” AND “TORA! TORA! TORA!”)BUT I CANNOT SUBSCRIBE TO THE “VINCENT CLARKE” SCHOOL OF MODEOLOGY.
    THEY TOOK A WHILE TO START ISSUING GENUINELY GREAT ALBUMS BUT THEIR SINGLES FROM THE EARLY EIGHTIES(SANS A COUPLE) ARE FABULOUS. THEY PUSH THE ENVELOPE IN TERMS OF PRODUCTION , ELECTRONICS , HARDWARE , SAMPLING ,WHAT YOU CAN GET AWAY WITH IN A “POP HIT” AND WHAT ONE CAN ACHIEVE ON A SMALL INDIE LABEL OUT OF HARROW. “CONFORM TO DEFORM?”…YOU BETCHAR LEATHER APRON.
    AS FOR THEM BECOMING A “ROCK” BAND.OK…MARTIN DID BECOME ENAMOURED OF BLUES LICKS AND DAVE DID BECOME THE KING JUNKIE COCK ROCKER. AND THEY SHIPPED A SHIT LOAD…BUT EVEN “SONGS OF FAITH AND DEVOTION” IS BEYOND THE LIKES OF A U2 ..LET ALONE A GUNS N’ ROSES. AND THAT POP AESTHETIC HAS NEVER STRAYED AFAR. SO LET US SHY AWAY FROM SWEEPING GENERALISATION(UNLESS IT INVOLVES DAMNING LONGHAIRS/CRUCIFYING U2/ETC ETC)…REACH FOR OUR OLD MODE 12″S (AND ..YES A FEW LATER ONES)AND ANNOY THE CACK OUT OF THOSE ROCKIST DULLARDS NEXT DOOR….

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