Depeche Mode - Speak and Spell (Collectors CD/SACD & DVD)
Please see here for the original review of Speak and Spell.
1981. It seems so far and distant now it could almost be another country. Ronald Reagan became president and promptly got shot. Adrian Mole started his diary. In the UK we enjoyed a lovely royal wedding. Justin Timberlake and Beyonce Knowles were born. And out of Basildon, four boys emerged with their debut album, the rather under whelming “Speak and Spell”.
Full of bleeping keyboards and tinny drums, few could have imagined that it would mark the beginnings of a career that would span three decades and see immeasurable changes in technology and their sound. It is entirely fitting that this album should be part of the initial re-releases of Depeche Mode’s albums. Its how the story starts, even if it is a rather poor first chapter.
All of this album has been restored to its former glory. The track “I Sometimes Wish I Was Dead”, removed on the American version, has been reinstated for all territories. “Dreaming of Me”, also not on the original release, is included as well (with no fade out and an amusing botched ending). The sleeve looks as terrible as ever – never has a swan wrapped in plastic upon a bed of twigs looked more ridiculous. All things considered though, this album is still a joy to listen to, full of innocence and a charm so sadly lacking today.
In the linear notes, Daniel Miller talks about the problems and complexities of remastering such an old album, but boy, was it worth it. The album sounds clean and fresh and distinctly improved to the original version. “New Life” sounds completely fantastic – a perfect start, full of melody and energy. “Sometimes I Wish I Was Dead” also sound great, with its twiddly sythn lines and bouncy rhythm. “Puppets” though sounds the most improved, the bass notes really rich and full of tone, and the melody line clear and vibrant.
Slightly disappointing though is “Photographic”, which seems to have lost some of its edge, sounding slightly quiet. Also, the poor songs are still very poor. You could mess around with them for years, but “Boys Say Go!” and “What’s Your Name” are always going to be just a little bit embarrassing. “Big Muff” still sounds pretty ludicrous, the sort of music usually attached to a BBC Schools programme. “Any Second Now (Voices)” though really sounds lovely, a simple, but effective song with some lovely ideas and light touches.
The 5.1/DTS mix
I can't even begin to imagine how they approached mixing such a vintage album into 5.1, and it is clear from listening to it that a great deal of effort has gone into the task. The mix sounds bright and clear, a couple of the tracks sounding very different to their original form. Sounds previously buried into the mix are placed higher and clearer, making this an interesting experience.
Highlights include "Just Can't Get Enough", which sounds lovely, crisp and clean, deep harmonies behind you with Gahan's vocal in front. "Photographic" also sounds good, again sounding as if it has been enhanced and remixed into a different version. Best though is "Any Second Now (Voices)" which sounds wonderful, the keyboard lines glimmering around you.
These are also mixed in 5.1 and DTS, but are quite a mixed back. The extended mix of "Just Can't Get Enough" is ok but outstays its welcome. "Ice Machine" is pretty daft, as is "Shout", which sounds poorly mixed here. "Any Second Now" sounds good, rather sweet and sugary without the vocal but good none the less.
Depeche Mode 80-81: Do We Really Have To Give Up Our Day Jobs?
It probably seemed like a good idea at the time – little toy trumpets to mime the “parpy” solo in “Just Can’t Get Enough”. And oh boy, am I glad they did it, as it amused me greatly to see the clip of the four of them making complete fools of themselves back in 1981. This film is full of old clips, from a variety of (mostly BBC) shows of the time; Top of the Pops, Swap Shop, the lot. Also interspersed are clips from live performances and the “Just Can’t Get Enough” video.
These films are really well produced and researched and the great thing to see is how many of those involved along the way consented to be interviewed. It is great to see Vince Clarke talking so openly about Depeche Mode, with clear affection. However, the film does fall a bit short in recollecting the history of the band, and instead starts more with the beginning of their recording career, talking about how they got signed and about the production of the record.
There are many highlights to this film. The clips are great, as is the interview with the chump who photographed the swan for the sleeve and Vince Clarke’s incredulity at how much the whole thing cost. The involvement of Seymour Stein, the notorious former boss of Sire Records, is also welcome. The only additional person I would wish to see interviewed would have been Eric Radcliffe, whose studios were used to record this album. But the recollections of Daniel Miller, instrumental in the production of this release, make up for this. I would also have liked to have heard more of Vince’s reasons for leaving but sadly, this is hardly mentioned except in a postscript. These grumbles aside though, this film is a joy.
If you are not a fan, then there is nothing here of much interest I'm afraid. Even those with a passing interest might be disappointed with this release, which is more for the serious Depeche devotee. That said though, this is a well put together package - the album sounds bright and fresh, and the documentary is wonderful and extremely well put together. If you are interested in the origins of Vince Clarke, Martin Gore, Dave Gahan and even Fletch, then this release is a good place to start.