There are some great songs on this CD, but the band's early stuff was pretty shallow and simplistic, so you have to take the good with the bad here. It is interesting to hear the change in their music as they grew and developed that unique style that has made them one of the most popular and long-lived musical groups from the '80s. So take the first 4 or 5 songs for what they are worth, as there's lots of great stuff that follows quickly, and "everything counts in large amounts", right? The double "Singles" CD of songs from several years after this time period is even better, but I am glad I have both.
What a great cd! Depeche Mode was one of my favorite bands to dance to in the 80s. I have several of their albums but wanted a compilation. I graduated in 1985 so this one was perfect, it had all the songs I remember dancing to, hearing and loving in high school. CD was in great shape and arrived quickly. I am very happy with this purchase! :)
My wife purchased this CD and absolutely loves it. We each have our favorite CD on the car changer and she enjoys hers so much, I am never the first to push the button when we get in. I always have to wait to hear mine.
I'm going through another Depeche Mode re-appreciation phase. It happens every couple of years. Just to put in perspective, I grew up in Belgium and these guys started out and became a fixture for me during my university years there (so yes, they are my peers, age-wise).
"The Singles 81>85" (17 tracks; 59 min.) brings, thankfully, a chronological overview of the band's first 5 years, starting of course with the Vince Clarke-penned early hits "Dreaming of Me" and "New Life". At the very end of this compilation we also get the very first DM song of significance, another Clarke tune called "Photograpgic", which appeared on a UK compilation album before DM signed to a label (and one of the major reasons to buy this compilation). It amazes me to this day how quickly DM overcame Vince Clarke's unexpected departure and almost immediately we are immersed into a bunch of outstanding early Martin Gore-penned hits: the 1-2-3-4 punch of "See You", "The Meaning of Love", "Leave in Silence" and "Get the Balance Right" are among DM's best songs period (and songs I grew up with and played endlessly). After that, we evolve into more popular songs like "People Are People" and "Shake the Disease", but my own preference is for the earlier songs.
There is a compilation out there called "Catching Up With Depeche Mode" which covers similar ground but I rate this one slightly better. Depeche Mode is due to release a new album shortly, which is rumored to be in the vein of "Songs of Faith and Devotion", released 20 years ago, if you can believe it, and my all time favorite DM album. I'll believe it when I hear it. Meanwhile, "The Singles 81>85" is a superb compilation of early DM. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
"All the songs are digitally remastered, but how much does digital enhancement really do to improve the sound of early-'80s synth-pop, which is so dated? Not much."
I completely disagree! It's not a matter of the music sounding dated. It's a matter of the actual sound of the music, which has been improved hugely! I've been doing an A/B comparison between the 2006 'The Best Of - Vol 1' Depeche Mode release and this 1998 'Singles 81>85', and the differences are clear. One would think that the 2006 version would sound better since it was released nearly 8 years after the 1998 version. This, however, is not the case at all. The 1998 disc sounds much better than the 2006 disc. That's not to say that the 2006 disc sounds bad. It just isn't up to the 1998 standards.
The differences are simply the result of the mastering engineers. Simon Heyworth mastered the 2006 best of, whereas Mike Marsh and Roland Brown got it right the first time in 1998 on this compilation. Heyworth's mastering seems to be restrained, sticking closely to the original mastering from the 80s without giving the tracks the extra punch and depth as heard in recent masters. The Marsh/Brown collaboration, on the other hand, gives the tracks bass and fullness, making them sound heavy.
With an excellent digital remastering and a solid tracklisting, 'Singles 81>85' is an essential part of any DM fan collection.
The beginning of Mode's years was kind of interesting. The periods done in each of these tracks are all notable. There's the Vince Clarke stuff, when Gore took the lead songwriting role, and the time Alan Wilder stepped in. Also interesting is the liner notes, which contain one negative and one positive review for each (well, almost) of the singles. There are some classics here: "Everything Counts" is still one of DM's greatest songs, a beautiful, yet moving track.
"People Are People" was made to be a hit, and even broke them through stateside. In spite what the band may say, it's a wonderful track. "New Life" and "Just Can't Get Enough" are as well, and you get a short introduction to Gore's dark lyrics in "Master and Servant" and "Blasphemous Rumors." Also, a track like "Love, In Itself" shows the group making some pretty unique tracks. Even nearly 25 years later, it sounds like nothing else. I like the samples used on there. Also, the version of "Photographic" here is, in my opinion, even better than the version on "Speak & Spell." You even get a preview at the beginning of tracks with Martin Gore in lead vocals ("Somebody"), although not many singles after would feature him. It's worth owning to hear the two non-album tracks, "Shake the Disease" and "It's Called a Heart."
Of course, there's also a few low spots. "See You" may have been a hit but hasn't aged well and is hookless really. "The Meaning of Love" is kind of a mediocre attempt at re-creating a "Speak" track. The debut "Dreaming of Me" is okay, but really, DM had a lot better after that one.
All in all, this is an interesting look at one of my all-time favorite groups. Yes, the later one is better ("The Singles 86>98"), but that's also because almost every song there is absolutely wonderful, but this shows who Depeche are at least as much as later stuff. That's the great thing about them: The singles collections show who they are equally as much as the albums do.