Saturday, 1 June 2019

THERE'S A LOT TO BE LEARNED - DEPECHE MODE'S BLACK CELEBRATION AND MUSIC FOR THE MASSES 12" BOXSETS


Thus far, the Depeche Mode 12" reissue series has been a great thing. The amount of care that has gone into every element has been incredible from Daniel Barassi's impressive work on the audio side of things to the faithful reproduction of the artwork. As we'll see in a while, an extra level of attention to detail has been paid in the Black Celebration boxset which, for people like me, is an absolute joy. There is a problem with the Black Celebration boxset however - it's not complete.

If the purpose of this reissue series is to rightly celebrate Depeche Mode's role as one of the first great innovators in 12" remixing, then the omission of the 12" singles for Shake The Disease and It's Called A Heart is a calamitous oversight that undermines the entire project. "Ah, but they're non album singles," the record company might say. "Neither of them featured on Black Celebration." That is of course true, however, if that is the argument, let's open up the Construction Time Again boxset and take a peek at the two 12" singles in there for Get The Balance Right.  What's odd about them? That's right. It's a single that did not feature on that album. The same point could easily be made about Dreaming Of Me's inclusion in the Speak & Spell boxset.  So the non album singles thing is very much a non starter.

Get The Balance Right is correctly tied into Construction Time Again because it was an important bridge between that album and A Broken Frame. It also features a hugely influential 12" remix and this whole project's purpose is a celebration of that format. Dreaming Of Me is of course very much tied to the Speak & Spell era so, again, its inclusion in that box made sense. For the same reasons then, Shake The Disease and It's Called A Heart surely have to feature here don't they? Shake The Disease is another hugely important Depeche single. As well as being nothing more than one of the most beautiful songs Martin has written, it also ended the band's pop phase and led us in to the dark, leather clad Berlin hammer wielding world  of Black Celebration. It is the very point that Depeche Mode became that thing that we all love. in 1985, two 12" singles were released. It is illogical to ignore them here. Similarly, It's Called A Heart's three 12" singles (the standard and double pack) should also feature here albeit that is only for reasons of logic and not of dark majesty. 

Basically, the omission of Shake The Disease and It's Called A Heart is a cock-up of epic proportions. And with that, we move to the boxsets.

Black Celebration - The 12" Singles Boxset


I'm not even going to attempt objectivity here - this boxset is a thing of quite staggering beauty. There is so much to love about this collection of singles and there are several fan pleasing highlights. For example, the cover of Stripped is embossed, just like the original issue of the record. That's superb. Also, the Limited Edition 12" of A Question Of Time features the Limited Edition sticker on the front, again just like the original issue. It would have been incredibly easy to simply have the words Limited Edition printed on the sleeve as happened with later pressings of the original 12", but the care taken in making these boxsets has extended even to these small details and that is a wonderful thing.

There is one real treat here and, for me, it's the highlight of the series so far. In 1986, A Question Of Lust was released on 7", 12" and a limited edition cassette single. That cassette singles came in a cardboard package and as the sleeve promised, contained a cassette, a badge and a booklet. Here it is both opened and unopened:


The ever resourceful West German label Intercord went one better, releasing a vinyl version of the cassette single in two versions - black vinyl and yellow vinyl. It only contained the booklet however. There was no badge.


It is therefore wonderful to find this version released on 12" for the first time ever in Britain contained within the new boxset. The attention to detail show in the packaging of it is exquisite. Here's the sleeve:



As with the West German release, it says "Special Edition Single 45rpm" at the top right. It also says "L12BONG11" below that. However, as you'll see, unlike the cassette single and the West German 12" there are no boxes ticked that indicate there is either a badge and booklet contained inside (the cassette single) or just a booklet (the West German 12"). What have they done with those then? Wel,, they've done something quite fantastic.

Firstly, the badge has been incorporated into the package as it has been used as the label on the b-side of the record. 


How cool is that? I know that it's probably wrong to get excited about things like this, but I make no apologies for it. The booklet is also here but not as a booklet. Instead, quite brilliantly, it has become the inner sleeve.



It's genius. A masterpiece of repackaging and attention to detail of a level far higher than I could have expected. Beautiful, beautiful work.

The records also feature remixes, b-sides and a couple of live tracks, but you all know them by now and there's no point in me droning on about them. All I will say is that the Stripped 12" is one of the greatest 12" singles released by anyone ever at any time on earth and a record collection without that record in it is being treated very shabbily indeed. The final point to note is the inclusion of a reproduction of the A Question Of Lust promotional poster.

Overall then, despite the ridiculous Shake The Disease/It's Called A Heart situation, this is the best boxset of the lot so far.


Music For The Masses - The 12" Singles Boxset



Just look at that. This collection of 12" singles was already a thing of beauty in its original format - the reissue has polished them up and turned them out splendidly. All the classics are there - Strangelove's orange loud speaker, Never Let Me Down Again's maps and speakers and Behind The Wheel's gorgeous matt sleeves, all sparse and ominous. If you want to get right into Depeche Mode dullard's corner, the labels are simply perfect. I mean, just look at this:


Perfection itself. It also helps that the towering megabeast that is the Split Mix is there too. God, Depeche Mode really were incredible back then. 

The addition of the Little 15 12" is a nice touch. Even though it was not really released as a single in Britain (well, it wasn't promoted at all), the French label released it, as did a few other countries in Europe, causing it to sell well on import here. From the point of view of making this series a comprehensive celebration of Depeche Mode's 12" history, it is only right that Little 15 features here. 




There's also a Strangelove poster reproduction which is cool. 

As with the Black Celebration boxset and indeed the four previous boxsets, this is another gorgeous package, lovingly put together and both boxsets featured in this review are a real treat. Yes they're expensive and, yes they contain something that most of us already have in many different formats, but as a celebration of Depeche Mode at a crucial period in their career, they are fantastic.

If only they'd given some thought to what they haven't put into them....


Monday, 20 May 2019

THE VINYL STRAW - COLLECTORS EDITION BOXSETS AND HOW NOT TO PACKAGE THEM

A tale of record collecting woe...





Last Friday, two packages arrived for me. I am one of these people you read about who spend money on "vinyls" (grrr) and who buy deluxe editions of releases by certain bands. I also buy ridiculous things like every 7" version of People Are People that I come across, but that particular Depeche Mode related problem is the subject of everything else I write, so we'll leave that for now.

The two packages that arrived for me were the triple coloured vinyl version of I Am Easy To Find, the new album by The National and the deluxe boxset version of the most recent Foals album Everything Not Save Will be Lost - Part 1. The National's album came direct from The National's Cherry Tree fanclub and the Foals album direct from their online store. Both cost in the region of £50 each. 

For that money, you'd expect some care would go into sending a package that a lot of thought has already gone into. The National's album comes in triple vinyl in a tri-fold sleeve and is a lovely thing. That release was packaged up perfectly - a strong cardboard outer box contained another cardboard package inside which the record had been vacuum packed for extra safety. Although the actual vinyl was send in the sleeve inside its own inner sleeve (usually a no-no), the vacuum packing had kept it in place and it arrived in pristine, unblemished condition. Great.

As soon as I opened the Foals package however, it was clear something had gone very wrong.

The Foals Collector's Edition boxset promises this:
- Special edition box with additional vinyl sleeve to fit the equivalent Part 2 vinyl upon release
- 24 Page hardcover book
- Album on 12" violet coloured 180g vinyl
- Exits 7" vinyl single exclusive to this set

It also adds digital singles and a signed piece of artwork. All rather tempting if you're a person like me and if you've been playing the superb Everything Not Saved Will Be Lost - Part 1 incessantly since its release.

The first thing I noticed was the the spine of the box which didn't exactly fill me with confidence:


The front of the "hardcover" book is also torn:


Needless to say, the top and bottom corners are bashed and crushed.

Somewhat tentatively then, I opened the box. It came as no real surprise, when I found the album in this state:


The album had been left in its inner sleeve when dispatched and, having just been bunged into a box with no support, the inevitable happened. The sleeve is ripped on the right hand side and, doubtless because the vinyl was given room to roam about in transit like some sort of violet coloured marauding beast, the seems on the neighbouring page of the book are nicely ripped.


There is also the 7" of Exits which is found a couple of pages on inside the book. Hilariously, it was in worse condition than the album:




Exits had successfully exited its sleeve. The record is also damaged for additional good measure:


What a lot of shoddy shite.

I put up some of these posts on Instagram on Friday night and people responded, telling me that they had had similar problems withe the Foals boxset. One had even returned it at his own cost, only to be sent another that was in even worse condition.

With few exceptions (DFA, Mute, Hand Drawn Dracula to name three diverse companies). record companies obviously don't give a toss about how they send out orders because, as long as there are people like me in the world, they will be given bundles of cash for different versions of albums. I only bought the Foals box as I'd enjoyed their album so much on Spotify in the first place. Being an old fashioned type, I still feel that an artist should benefit from their labours so I wanted to get my hands on a cool version of what is a superb record. I ordered it and then whoever packaged it chucked it in a box, kicked it around a bit and then sent it to me. Thanks. Thanks very much.

What's the point of this post? I don't know. I'm fucked off that I've again bought something that is treated with no care at all once I've paid over my money. I can't even be bothered asking for a swap as I fear I'll just have to write another blog talking about another smashed up box. Contrast Foals packaging with that of The National and it's even more frustrating. Other labels or acts like I've mentioned above or, for example, the superb way in which Nine Inch Nails handle their packaging, are unfortunate exceptions to the general rule that those in charge of Foals' packaging have steadfastly abided by.

I imagine most of you who read this will have had similar issues. I hope this post helps people consider packaging a bit more from a 7" single all the way up to the most madcap of boxsets. I don't think it will however as, frankly, very few record companies actually care.

Everything Not Packaged Properly Will Be Lost - Part1 to infinity.....






Tuesday, 19 March 2019

HALO – THE STORY BEHIND DEPECHE MODE’S CLASSIC ALBUM VIOLATOR



HALO - A NEW BOOK BY KEVIN MAY AND DAVID McELROY

Today is the 29th anniversary of the release of Violator, Depeche Mode’s finest album and an album which I seem to have spent the last 29 years telling anyone who would listen just how important an album it is. 

Next year, the album turns 30 and my intention is to repeat the idea of the month-long Black Celebration – A Month Long Period Of Rejoicing blog I ran in March 2016 with a month’s worth of articles by me and a number of other contributors looking at Violator from every conceivable angle. 

One of those contributors will be Kevin May, author of Halo, a man who possibly knows more about Violator than the band themselves. 

Kevin had originally planned to release Halo in 2015 but events overtook him somewhat, meaning that the book was unfortunately delayed. It will now be released in 2020 to celebrate Violator’s 30th anniversary and I’m delighted and very proud to announce that Kevin has asked me to co-author the book. It was a real honour to be asked and I was only too happy to accept. 

Halo, the book version, will feature all the original interviews, story, analysis and fan contributions that Kevin has worked so hard on. Trust me, you’re going to love what Kevin has done. The book will now also feature additional elements from me and other blog contributors, many of which will be teased during the blog’s Violator month in March 2020. 

The release of Halo in paperback, Kindle and other digital formats will come at the conclusion of that online series – as close to March 31st 2020 as we can get it! 

I’m really thrilled to be involved in Halo as I know how keenly the Depeche Mode fanbase is anticipating it. I hope that the additional content that I provide will add to what is already a hugely exciting project.

Monday, 11 February 2019

LADYTRON - LADYTRON


One of the finest pieces of music news I got in 2018 (other than confirmation that the Depeche Mode tour was finally ending meaning I could put the Global Spirit Tour Project to bed and reclaim my life) was that Ladytron were coming back. For reasons I've never been able to understand, Ladytron have never been given the recognition their immense back catalogue deserves - if this album doesn't put that right, I'm officially giving up on holding out any hope for the public's taste in music.

Since 2011's Gravity The Seducer, the members of the band have been off doing their own thing. Helen Marnie's two solo albums Crystal World and Strange Words And Weird Wars were two exceptional albums much loved by this blog, both of which moved away from the dark electronics of Ladytron into a poppier area. On Ladytron, this poppier, lighter feel combines wonderfully with the band's trademark sound, producing an album rich in quality and bursting with wonderful tunes. 

Opener Until The Fire opens the album perfectly with a real statement of intent, leading into the already released The Island. Both The Island and The Animals were issued last year to rightful acclaim, but when you hear them as part of the album, they sound bigger and even better. They, and indeed the whole of this album, seem to suggest that Ladytron have found a new level of confidence, making them sound better than they ever have done. When you compare this album to Chvrches sadly forgettable third album, there is a marked difference.




It no doubt seems over the top to say this, but it's very hard to pick one highlight out from this album because the whole thing is excellent. It's not too often a 13 track album will hold the listener's attention its full duration, but Ladytron manages this effortlessly. Tower Of Glass is a stunning track which, like the album's penultimate track The Mountain, brings to mind Helen Marnie's solo work.  The blazing electronics in Paper Highways are just superb and Mira's lead vocal on the track is sublime. A Mira track is always welcome. At the band's comeback show in Glasgow last year, Black Cat was a standout as it always is. If the band tour this album (and let's hope they do), Paper Highways will doubtless be a similar highlight.

Even though the job of a review is to review the album in some depth, I'm going to ignore that and just once again say that this album is excellent. You really do have to listen to it. Ladytron have been away far too long and not many bands come back after such a break with the same magic they previously had. Ladytron have not only come back impressively, but they've come back sounding bigger and better than they ever have done. Ladytron is an album you really don't want to miss.

Ladytron by Ladytron is out on 15 February on !K7. Find out more at https://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/ladytron

Monday, 7 January 2019

BOXSETS ARE BOXSETS - DEPECHE MODE'S CONSTRUCTION TIME AGAIN AND SOME GREAT REWARD 12" SINGLES BOXSETS


The release of Depeche Mode's first two 12" single boxsets (review here) was greeted with a mixture of delight and complaints as with every Depeche release these days it seems. Many people felt that they were too expensive especially when they would be paying for things they already had, which is a perfectly understandable view to take. There's no getting away from the fact that they are expensive and as the series continues the prices will only go up. When we get to the Violator boxset for example, we're looking at at least nine 12" singles. If you've been a collector since the early days then, you'll have all these records already. However, if you're new to Depeche Mode collecting, these boxes are a great way of starting things off.

Again using Violator as an example, a look at Discogs this morning shows me that the cost of buying the full set of 12" singles released in 1990 in mint condition (as the 12" singles in the boxset are) is £273 plus postage. I presume, indeed I desperately hope, that the Violator boxset will cost less than that - I'm sure you'll remind me if it doesn't.

Anyway, my point is that, while costly, these boxsets are a great way to get a hold of mint condition Depeche Mode 12" singles for less than you'd pay on Discogs etc. They're a good thing as far as I'm concerned. There are of course people like me who already have the 12" singles AND buy the boxsets but we're beyond help. 

Right - enough rambling. What about the boxsets themselves?

Construction Time Again The 12" Singles Boxset


Look at those beauties. The Construction Time Again era contains some of the band's most iconic cover art with the album and Love In Itself covers superbly photographed by Brian Griffin. The attention to detail throughout that era's releases is superb. From the worker icons on both Get The Balance Right singles (which may have slightly influenced this blog's logo) which fit the theme of the at that point unreleased album perfectly, to the matching designs of the three limited edition 12" singles, everything the band released in 1983 had a marvellous symmetry to it, each released tied to the themes of the album itself. 

The 12" singles in the boxset are of course faithful reproductions of the originals. For people who get excited about that sort of thing, and I of course am one of those, the covers of the limited edition 12" singles have the same texture as the original releases. The labels on the records are also identical to those on the original releases and again, that is a very good thing. That sort of attention to detail is what makes these boxsets worthwhile. As ever, thanks to Daniel Barassi for all his work here.

The contents of each 12" are well known to everyone by now so I won't go through them all. If for some reason you have never heard Get The Balance Right (Combination Mix) or Everything Counts (In Larger Amounts) then you really need to remedy that. They are two of the band's great self produced remixes. The limited edition 12" singles are all worth hearing too as each one contains four live tracks from the band's show at London's Hammersmith Odeon on 25 October 1982. The A Broken Frame era was an interesting one for the band given that they had to deal with Vince's departure. These live tracks show that they were trying to strike a balance or even trying to get the balance right (sorry) between pop (A Photograph Of You, The Meaning Of Love) and the more experimental side of things that the album had already hinted at (see My Secret Garden and its Oberkorn intro). These three records are the only officially released A Broken Frame era live recordings and that makes them worth having.  

The peerless DM Live Wiki has more tracks from that show available for streaming by the way. To further prove my point about the band's more experimental side coming to the fore, check out The Sun And The Rainfall from that show with its pre Construction Time Again metal bashing noises. You can listen to it here. 

This release also contains Alan Wilder's first Depeche Mode songwriting credits. He and Martin co-wrote the frankly awful The Great Outdoors and the "ok lads we get it - it's all about work and metal and all that" decent b-side Work Hard and Alan penned the rather good Fools all by himself. The Great Outdoors  is probably the band's most terrifying track, sounding like the music you would hear as you are murdered by an enraged gnome with the hammer shown on the album's cover.

Finally, the boxset comes with a reproduction Love In Itself promo poster and the box itself shows the oil derrick from the Love In Itself limited edition 12", recreated for this release. There's a download card to allow you to enjoy all these digitally too. One thing that Sony want to change for future releases is the tagging of these songs on all boxsets when downloaded and put into ITunes. When downloaded, the individual track names are all garbled and therefore almost entirely  useless e.g. "ConstructionTimeAgain12"boxset_EverythingCountsA1InLargerAmounts" etc. It's not the biggest problem in the world, but entering the names individually is a pain in the arse. 

By the way, if you bought all these 12" singles in mint condition on Discogs today, you'd pay £117 plus postage. That's more expensive than the boxset,

 As with the previous boxsets, there was an unboxing video and here it is:




Some Great Reward The 12" Singles Boxset


The Some Great Reward boxset unsurprisingly contains all the 12" singles from the era plus a new 12" in the shape of L12BONG7 which is the 12" version of the original 7" ep featuring Somebody (Remix), Everything Counts (Live), Blasphemous Rumours (Single Version) and Told You So (Live). I'm really pleased with that as it means the release is a complete record of the era. It'll be interesting to see what happens with GBONG17 when the Violator boxset comes around.

The artwork for this era isn't as impressive as Construction Time Again, the album cover art aside. It's a lot starker and, while the Master And Servant 12" cover is marvellous, the rest are a little bland. I'm not sure how well known this is or not, but on the People Are People cover, the arm on the right hand side belongs to Hugh Grant the entirely one dimensional English actor. There's a fact to entertain your loved ones with.

One of the best things about this boxset for me is the digital download element, track name nonsense notwithstanding. Unless I'm very much mistaken (awaits "OMG YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT DEPECHE MODE MAN" attack from the Black Swarm), this release sees the first official digital versions of People Are People (On U-Sound Remix by Adrian Sherwood), Are People People? and Master And Servant (An On-U Sound Science Fiction Dance Hall Classic Re-Remixed by Adrian Sherwood) and that is very much a good thing. I love these remixes and the fact I can now sing along to Are People People's Zing Zing Zings and Boom Bop Bops on the train is great for me and terrifying for my fellow passengers. 

For completeness' sake, I should point out that Alan (no he's not coming back) has another song here, the superb In Your Memory, the b-side to People Are People. It's far better than Martin's (Set Me Free) Remotivate Me which lets the Master And Servant  release down rather dramatically. The 12" versions of People Are People and Master And Servant - Different Mix and Slavery Whip Mix - are both towering gorgeous beasts of remixes and should be on everyone's playlists. The live tracks on the Blasphemous Rumours releases are from the band's show at the Empire Theatre in Liverpool on 29 September 1984. 

As an aside, the huge pulsating Depeche Mode brain that is Michael Rose pointed out on depmod's Facebook page a thing that will annoy people like him (and me) for the rest of time. It takes a certain type of person to get annoyed by this sort of thing, but as I mentioned earlier, we are beyond help. Look at the alignment of the spines in the boxset:

Photo courtesy of Michael Rose
WHAT IS L12BONG5 DOING THERE? GET BACK IN LINE.

Sorry.

Finally, there was another unboxing video and this time it features, among others,  the silky sounds of Sean Salo. Here it is:


And what would this cost you if you bought the records all in mint condition on Discogs? £148 plus postage is the answer which seems high to me but there you go. If anyone is remotely interested by this point, I included the 7" ep in that.

And Then...

So there we have it - two more excellently curated releases and two great additions to my collection. If you want them, go and get them. If you don't want them, don't go and get them. Let's not argue about their worth or otherwise. Let's not get along so awfully. Boxsets Are Boxsets.




Sunday, 30 September 2018

FROM THE PORT TO THE BRIDGE - THE STORY OF THOMAS LEER AND ROBERT RENTAL


Port Glasgow is not perhaps the first place you think of when you start preparing a list of Scotland's most influential music hotspots, but as the forthcoming exhibition From The Port To The Bridge shows, it certainly should be near the top of that list. From an electronic music point of view, it surely has to be at the top. 

The exhibition tells the story of Robert Rental And Thomas Leer both of whom were born in Port Glasgow. They moved to London in the late 1970's and became deeply involved in the post punk scene. Rental's Paralysis and Leer's Private Plane along with The Normal's Warm Leatherette/T.V.O.D. are three key electronic post punk singles, all released close to each other and all still sounding as fresh as they did on release. Rental and Leer then collaborated, releasing the outstanding album, The Bridge on Throbbing Gristle's Industrial Records in 1979. This is a hugely important album as its influence spreads far and wide from early Depeche Mode and New Order to industrial electronica. The Bridge is perhaps overlooked in favour of early Cabaret Voltaire or Human League in any discussion about the early U.K electronic scene and that is grossly unfair.

Robert Rental and The Normal live in 1979 (c) Robert Chang

Robert Rental became friends with Mute boss Daniel Miller, the pair having met at a Throbbing Gristle gig. They toured together in 1979 supporting Stiff Little Fingers on a Rough Trade tour and playing a couple of shows in Paris. A single sided live album was released on Rough Trade in 1980 and it's a really interesting record well worth checking out. The pair's relationship also led to Robert releasing a single on Mute, the superb Double Heart (MUTE10) but that record marked the end of Robert's recording career. Sadly, he passed away in 2000.


Thomas Leer's career saw him release a number of solo records, collaborate with The The on Soul Mining and form Act with Claudia Brucken, formerly of Propaganda, in 1987 with an album and singles released on ZTT. There was little heard of Thomas in the 1990's but, following a return to Greenock in the early part of this century, his back catalogue has been reiussed on various labels and today he continues to release previously unheard music via his Bandcamp page.

From The Port To The Bridge tells the story of both of these hugely influential and much admired Scottish musicians. The exhibition features a documentary starring the likes of Daniel Miller, Matt Johnson, Chris Carter and Cosey Fanni Tutti, memorabilia, original material and personal artefacts, the original reel to reel tapes the men used and much more. It is going to be unmissable and is a must see for all fans of electronic music. It is only fair that the stories of Robert Rental and Thomas Leer are told and From The Port To The Bridge will do that and much, much more.

From The Port To The Bridge runs from 2nd to 28th October at The Beacon Arts Centre Greenock. 






Monday, 3 September 2018

NEW SOUNDS ALL AROUND - THE DEPECHE MODE 12" SINGLES BOXSETS

My 12" boxsets

Last Friday, Depeche Mode released the first two of what will be a series of boxsets of 12" singles. As you might expect, the first two contained the Speak & Spell and A Broken Frame 12" singles with the Speak & Spell boxset containing a couple of nice surprises.

Each boxset is a numbered limited edition housed in a cardboard outer box featuring a reinterpretation of the album cover, or at least a key element of the album cover. The Speak & Spell cover is nice, but the A Broken Frame is a bit bland. Recreating that album's iconic cover would no doubt be tricky but, had I been asked, I'd have suggested that the inner sleeve of the album featuring the cover of the boxset plus a sickle, would be been better. I wasn't asked though so who cares? The covers of the 12" singles are reproductions of the originals which, at least in terms of New Life, keen eyed fans have noticed apparent differences in colour between the old and the new. I've not done this so I can't tell you what differences I see between the singles I have. 

The cost of the boxsets comes in anywhere from £40 to £50 or so depending on where you shop. That's a lot of money obviously and, the odd surprise aside both here and in future boxsets, given that everything on here is available in the 12" format already, are these essential purchases? On balance probably not, but if you're a collector like I am, they are very nice additions to the seemingly never ending pile of Depeche Mode records filling every space in your house.

Sound wise, a large amount of work has gone into these releases by depechemode.com webmaster Daniel Barassi and the results are excellent. He has taken a lot of time getting the balance right (lol etc) on the sonic side of things as you can see from the hints that he has dropped on his Fishure Price Instagram account. The 12" singles are reproduced from the original master tapes and are designed to sound identical to the original vinyl. Again, that might not seem like a selling point to some and that's perfectly understandable given the cost of the boxes.

The Speak & Spell 12" boxset

The Speak & Spell boxset is noteworthy because it contains Dreaming Of Me on 12" for the first time ever. It's nice to have that particular gap filled and any release that contains the majestic Ice Machine is impossible not to love. The New Life and Just Can't Get Enough 12" singles contain, the same tracks the original 12" singles : New Life (remix) (decent), Shout! (Rio Mix) (not only a quality piece of punnery but also a titanic remix), Just Can't Get Enough (Schizo Mix) (A glorious homage to Kraftwerk remix) and Any Second Now (Altered) (one of those really odd instrumentals the band did in the old days that you can't help but enjoy). 

There are two bonus items. Firstly, we have a reproduction of a promotional poster from the era which is fine as posters go. Secondly, and rather superbly, we also have a reproduction of the Flexipop magazine flexidisc which was originally released in September 1981. That flexidisc features two tracks: the superb King Of The Flies by the superb Fad Gadget and Sometimes I Wish I Was Dead by Depeche, a differently named and different take on the Speak & Spell album track I Sometimes Wish I Was Dead. Sometimes I Wish I Was Dead is an excellent version of the song, slightly improving on what is already on of the great early Depeche Mode tracks. Finally on the flexidisc point, because I am the sort of person that does this sort of thing, I've compared the reissue to the original and can confirm that the reissue is slightly heavier. Not in tone or sound but in weight. I have no idea why I felt I needed to share that with you.

Here's the cover of the original magazine featuring a young Dave, no doubt in the coffin because the photographer thought that was an amusing thing given the song on the flexidisc.

Picture courtesy of Depeche Mode Classic Photos & Videos Facebook Group
As with all the other boxsets to come, this one and the A Broken Frame one come with digital downloads. You get a card inside the box that, in the U.K. at least, gives you a code to use on wearevinyl.com. With the Speak & Spell boxset, you get a digital version of Sometimes I Wish I Was Dead  which is rather nice as that's not been available before. The Fad Gadget track is not available with the downloads however. 

Finally on the Speak & Spell side of things, Sony asked 5 fans to get involved with the release by making their own unboxing videos. Along with Dicken Schrader, Michael Russell, Cristian Guttierez and Sylwia Gorajek, I was asked to take part which was naturally something I was really pleased to do. Too pleased almost as you can tell from the rather childlike was I react to things in the video.



The A Broken Frame 12" boxset

Like the Speak & Spell boxset, this one contains three 12" singles with an identical track listing to their original issues. First up we have the pure pop of See You in its Extended Version which is not that extended at all really. It has Now, This Is Fun on the b-side, again as the Extended Version. I do enjoy that track and the band played it live 79 times in 1982 and 1983 so they must have loved it too. As you can see from the photo of the master tape the band's Facebook page shared the other day, it originally had a different name - Reason For Fun



In fact, in the January 21st 1982 edition of U.K. pop magazine Smash Hits, Fletch said the b-side was called something else:

"After ‘New Life’," Andy takes over, "a lot of people thought Depeche Mode were ‘sweet’ and ‘cute’ and everything, and we wanted to show them we could be a lot of other things as well. On the new B-side, "Reason To Be", we tried to …" pause while they all burst out laughing again … "we tried to sound … really…mean! Didn’t work though," he admits.

Not that "mean" really.

Talking of mean, harsh sounding, Nine Inch Nails influencing industrial goth pop, the next 12" we find is The Meaning Of Love.  The band's weakest single of that and any other era until Hole To Feed came out (I will never let that go), the 12" features the Fairly Odd Mix of the track which lives up to its name. It's backed with a genuine titan of the Depeche b-side catalogue however with the Bowie Low era like electronic genius of Oberkorn (It's A Small Town) (Development Mix). An unmissable gem in the band's early releases that was recorded before it even had a name as another picture from the band's Facebook page recently showed us.


On the music side, the final piece of the A Broken Frame jigsaw is of course BONG1 itself, Leave In Silence with the 12" reproduced in its original textured sleeve form which is a nice touch. Leave In Silence  is a masterpiece of a song and I will not hear anything to the contrary from anyone. The Longer version we find on track one of the 12" only confirms that I am right and the Quieter version on Track 3 doesn't alter that at all. Sandwiched in between we find Further Excerpts From: My Secret Garden which is fine if you like that sort of thing. Oh, and did you know that Leave In Silence was originally called The Big Drop? Depeche Mode's Facebook page again pleasing people who are pleased by this sort of thing (you and me basically) by producing yet another master tape picture:


I bet even the Duff Mix was glorious.

Finally, there's a reproduction of a See You promo poster inside the box.

There was an unboxing video too and one of the five participants was friend of this blog, all round good guy, Mr Breathing In Fumes himself, Glen Hammarstrom. See Glen and his wall of vinyl below:





Reached Our Natural Conclusion

That then is a run through of the Depeche Mode 12" boxsets. These first two give a taste of what is to come and it will be interesting to see how future releases appear. The Violator era one for example has 9 12" singles to look at. Will the L12BONG20 appear in a gel sleeve? Will we get the Hazchemix Edit of Dangerous which appeared on the gatefold 7" of Personal Jesus? Will the Songs Of Faith And Devotion 12" boxset finally see the prices of the original 12" singles drop to something less than the price of a small car? Will we get vinyl releases of any of the American only mixes such as the Black & Blue Mix of Master & Servant?

Who knows? Well Sony probably, but I don't. I am intrigued to see how these issues are dealt with and what the price of future boxsets will be given the content they surely have to have as a minimum i.e. all the 12" singles from that album. We can judge them as we get to them. What the series will show, especially as we get up to the end of the Music For The Masses era is just how influential Depeche Mode were on the 12" single remix and that is something that should rightly be celebrated.  These two boxes are a fine way to start that off.