Pop culture’s recent passion for all things ’80s has allowed dance-pop acts channeling the likes of Duran Duran to buzz up a big enough following to make a living off interpreting bands that Generation X hasn’t taken seriously since high school. But it’s also meant a newfound interest in the originals — bands such as Depeche Mode, whose 1981 debut, Speak and Spell, bridged the gap between Kraftwerk and MTV.
When vocalist David Gahan joined the group in 1980, the band members were content with the product they had come up with, a point that’s proved by the twenty-six-minute documentary included with this reissue. The problem was, they did not appreciate it to its full degree, nor did their audience at the time. It spawned a lot of second-rate rip-offs, including Erasure and slew of other early- to mid-’80s bands with an MTV hit. Vince Clarke was responsible and credited for most of the songwriting on Speak and Spell, which reflects heavily on light topics of early love and an effortless attack on the brighter side of life. The writing is elementary, but it fits perfectly within the context of the album. “Puppets” bounces along with vibrant, textured rhythms, and “Pretty Boy” might even explore homosexuality. The singles, “Just Cant Get Enough” and “New Life,” graced the airwaves with something that was fresh and virtually unheard of at the time.
In addition to the documentary, the re-issue is mixed in 5.1 Dolby surround and includes four additional tracks: “Shout,” “Ice Machine,” “Any Second Now,” and “Just Cant Get Enough.” The album does sound time stamped, but its massive influence within the realms of synth-pop is undeniable. At the time, the only groups that explored these realms within a large-scale audience were Kraftwerk and possibly the Human League, but Depeche Mode took it a step further. Speak and Spell is a fun, danceable album that kicked off the career of one of Earth’s largest groups. Who knew that three guys playing synthesizers could garner a fan base larger than the populations of most developing countries?
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