991 - Depeche Mode 'Speak & Spell' (1981)

My Rating: 1.45 out of 5
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: X
Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums: X
The Mojo Collection: X

Chart Peak (UK/US): 10/--

Favourite Tracks: New Life
Least-Favourite Tracks: I Sometimes Wish I Was Dead, What's Your Name

I must have sinned terribly in a previous life as recently I had to do some work compiling music for German toddlers - high-energy squeaky synth saccharine songs that almost drove me insane. Putting this album on, I felt my eye twitching Herbert Lom-style because it just reminded me of all that appalling pap.

I hated this album when it was originally released, not because I didn't like electronic music, but conversely because I loved electronic music. Back then I had loads of analogue synths myself & I loved the fact that you could make so many wild & exciting sounds. The versatility of the instruments seemed to inspire early electronic bands (Kraftwerk, early Human League, Throbbing Gristle, Devo, etc) towards experimentation & to subvert the traditional verse-chorus structures. Then this album arrived & electronic music was delivered to the masses as a big pink candy bunny with a bow in its hair.

The main culprit is of course Vince Clarke, a man who liked the presets on his first synth so much that he went on to use them for the next twenty-five years. From this album, through Yazoo (or 'Kazoo' as they should be called) to Erasure, Vince always plumped for the shrillest, most twee & feeble sounds that is is possible to extract from a silicon chip. Producer & Mute Records boss Daniel Miller should also hang his head in shame. After listening to this album, I went back & listened to his 1980 Silicon Teens recordings & the production & sounds are identical.

By the time I'd reached the closing track Just Can't Get Enough, I'd truly had enough. This was the third song where it 'whooshed' into a middle eight of Dave Gahan repeating the chorus over a lone drumbox. Depeche Mode became a much more interesting band after this album (i.e., once Vince had gone). If you really want to check out early 80s electronic music, I'd suggest people like Fad Gadget, Thomas Leer, etc - unless of course you're a 3 year old from Germany in which case I'd recommend this album wholeheartedly.


crowbarred said...

Ahhhhh man! Why didnt you let me know you were doing this! Great concept you have, albums are even harder then songs! I like alot of your ideas too and the way you represent it. Im going to put your website in my list so people can see it. I will be watching this 100 % ~ crowbarred

Alan Heller said...

Thanks for your support Crowbarred. Check out his site for the top 1000 singles (with videos too!) at http://www.crowbarred.blogspot.com/ - Al

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