Speak & Spell is electronica band Depeche Mode’s 1981 debut album and the only album recorded with original member Vince Clarke, who would leave to form Yazoo and later the duo Erasure with Andy Bell. Clarke also wrote nearly all the material for the album, so in the Depeche Mode catalogue, the album really stands out from the rest of the work in a lot of ways. Upon its initial release, the album was highly praised in critical circles and sold relatively well, reaching #10 on the British Album Charts. Instantly catchy tunes like “Dreaming of Me” and “Just Can’t Get Enough” with their danceable beats and chiming keyboard riffs make the album standout, but it is in tracks like the atmospheric ballad “Any Second Now” where you get a glimpse of the moodier, more inventive Depeche Mode that was to come only a few albums down the road.
In retrospect, one can look back at Speak & Spell and clearly hear the influences ringing out loud an clear, from Kraftwerk to Gary Numan to any number of late-70s disco acts. Perhaps the critical praise layered on the album at the time may have been tempered a bit if critics had only had an inkling of the sublime industrial electronica of Some Great Reward, the introspective, sampling opus Black Celebration, or the blues-electronica Violator. One even wonders if they’d have been able to reach such high levels of artistic achievement had Vince Clarke remained and Andrew Wilder not joined. That’s neither here nor there now. Speak & Spell may not be as adventurous a statement as their later efforts, but as an opening statement from this now veteran act, it stands as one of the strongest on record.
The SACD release from Mute in the UK from several years back sounds just a little smoother and less tweaked in the high end than this Warner high-res download of Speak & Spell at 192khz/24-bit (also available in 92kHz/24-bit). Otherwise, this is a flawless download version of this classic Depeche Mode album. All the breath is here, with lots of air remaining around the chiming keyboard sounds, good mid-range punch in the drum sounds, and clear vocal. The mastering levels haven’t been pushed to ear-bleeding levels, and lots of little details can be made out in the mixes.
Only hi-res cover art in PDF format is included.
The Definitive Word
Speak & Spell is a sparkling if somewhat non-defining debut from the brilliant electronica band Depeche Mode. It sounds absolutely fantastic in this high-resolution lossless download from Warner Bros. and HDtracks, the best it has sounded outside of the UK SACD release from several years ago.