Speak & Spell | The 12” Singles
A Broken Frame | The 12” Singles
Depeche Mode has found various ways of packaging their material for the masses. From Greatest Hits collections to Remixed versions to the early years, as well as the later years, various live versions, altered versions, you get the idea. Adding to this curriculum of re-imaginings seems trivial. But here we are again, and in the coming years Depeche Mode will re-release all of their singles on pristine vinyl. The first round of box sets are due to drop August 31.
Why is this important? There are two answers. One, is that these sets are geared directly to audiophiles, offering reproductions of each included single—including original artwork—and re-mastered at Abbey Road studios from the original tapes. The other is consumer driven. You could pay around 20 plus bucks a pop for the original singles, depending on their condition, or you could bundle mint pressings and get four platters in one for a little over $50.
There is another factor. Once upon a time, singles meant life for a band. When Depeche Mode shopped their demo from label to label, it led to their first UK single and laid the foundation for what their career was to become. Depeche Mode’s initial need as a group was to be on the charts and radio. “Dreaming of Me” was first released in February 1981. Although the single did not do great, to have an initial song land on the charts was a monumental success. The song, back with “Ice Machine,” did not make it on Speak & Spell but remains well-loved amongst fans. The ‘45 contains my favorite artwork of early Depeche Mode singles.
The haunting theremin-like notes that intros this song turns something initially science fiction feeling into something endearing. Looking to bands like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and The Human League, Clarke wrote this song to fit within that constraint of synth pop, filtered through the inspiration of ‘50s doo wop. “Ice Machine” builds on a more monochromatic emotion as they use the concept of an ice machine as an analogy to humanity. The coldness of the keyboards exemplify the notion stemming from the late ‘70s french coldwave scene.
Depeche Mode – New Life
“New Life” is to the beginning of Speak & Spell as “Just Can’t Get Enough” is to the end. I cannot think of two better songs to represent the Genesis and Exodus of the album.
The single for “New Life” boasts a remix, backed with a remix of the non-album song “Shout.” The remixed versions are no more exhilarating as its original, yet “New Life” in its purity is early Depeche Mode at its synthetic finest.
Speak & Spell was Vince Clarke’s baby, writing most of this album. There are some pitfalls (“What’s Your Name”) and absolute brilliance (“Photographic”). By the time you get to “Just Can’t Get Enough,” this song is a launching point into a sensational career ahead of them. The Schizo mix is not necessary but does add a prolonged excitement over a now over-played hit. To listen to it in the context of the album is a completely different experience as is the breakdowns in the remix.
The added bonus is the inclusion of the Flexipop flexidisc of “I Wish I Was Dead” and the Fad Gadget cover “King of the Flies.” Both songs remain in the strange confines of Depeche Mode oddities and exemplify the origins of the darkly-entrenched Depeche Mode strangeness.
Depeche Mode – I Wish I Was Dead (Flexipop Version)
David Gahan was 19, Martin Gore and Andrew Fletcher was 20, and Vince Clarke was 21 when they made this album. The innocence perceived during this time is in direct context to the darker days that lay ahead. Speak & Spell is a gorgeous synth pop album that should be revisited along with their singles. In 2006, all of these versions were compiled on the remastered version of the album.
Compared to the Depeche Mode we now know, early Depeche Mode feels like a dream preserved in time. It’s processed sound is dated but also shows the strength and charm this group had coming out of the gate. And just as they were gaining that momentum, Vince Clarke left the band to form Yazoo with Alison Moyet. This led Martin Gore to assume songwriting duties. Even though Gore was responsible for songs like the brash “Tora Tora Tora” on Speak & Spell, his work on A Broken Frame felt like he had to prove something leading to a mix of preserving the early identity and expanding on what they developed.
The album extracted mixed results that continue to this day. “See You” is the stand-out single on the album. It sparked a mini world tour, adding Alan Wilder to the roster. Its extended version is the first Depeche Mode mix that gives the song its due service. The haunting call and response to the fickle keyboard play put the band on the map in 1982. And the b-side “Now This Is Fun” (Extended Version) is a compliment with gorgeous early ‘80s soundtrack style motives.
Their first single offsets the more silly “The Meaning of Love.” With background vocals in estranged pop harmony, the Fairly Odd Mix adds no further context to the original. “Oberkorn (It’s A Small Town)” is instrumental atmosphere filler. The song is unique in the process of everything else they were doing at the time. But if you happened to catch the band on the A Broken Frame Tour, this song was the intro into their set.
Depeche Mode – Leave In Silence
“Leave In Silence” was the band’s sixth single. A glorious studio achievement, the band did not make a spectacle of the song. They hated the video that accompanied the song, leaving it out of their video collection. However, the synth work on this song is full of expression with a great rhythmic pulse as well as beautiful collaborative efforts between all musicians. “Further Excerpts From My Secret Garden,” also a track on the album turns this single into an exciting teaser to help fans anticipate the release of A Broken Frame. It’s this point we realize Gore’s more ambitious edginess about love and loss.
There is nothing special on the A Broken Frame | 12 Inch Singles like there are on Speak & Spell. It’s a great exercise into revisiting early Depeche Mode material as well admiring the progression of this band.