Living under a rock is not a prerequisite to being unfamiliar with Depeche Mode’s first commercial album, Speak and Spell. It’s not awfully memorable aside from a couple of singles. It’s basically early 1980s new wave according to many critics and doesn’t come close to the thoughtfulness or complexity of their later work. To me, it’s early “synth-pop.” It has its place in history and worth a listen, but mostly as a result of DM’s later success. So what makes this album particularly notable or worthy of your collection? Well, it was DM’s first, but it is also the only album with Vince Clarke as a member who later went on to work in projects like Yazoo and Erasure, both of which have become staples of 1980s pop and all of which were quite new sounds at the time. To put it in perspective, “rock ‘n roll” was nearly 25 years old by the time this album hit the shelves in October of 1981. Even punk rock was arguably stagnating. Albums such as Speak and Spell foreshadowed a musical movement that some simply couldn’t predict or come to terms with, as demonstrated in a 1982 review by seminal Rolling Stone writer David Fricke:
For all their undeniable pop attractions and the genuine innovative potential of electro-dominated rock, these bands so far have only bent the rules, not broken them. If this batch of records is any indication, the revolution will not be synthesized.
If only Fricke could have fast-forwarded to watch decades of “electro-dominated” recordings change music forever…
More about Speak and Spell at Discogs.