Vince Clarke punctuates songs with infectious and unforgettable melodies about as often as he does their titles with exclamation points. Arguably his best collection of examples of both is Speak & Spell, Depeche Mode’s debut album, and the only one Clarke had a hand in creating. He wrote nine of its 11 songs (“Big Muff” and “Tora! Tora! Tora!” are Martin Gore’s) before leaving the band to from Yazoo and Erasure,taking with him his trademark sense of whimsy, exuberance, and pop panache.
Clarke’s contributions set Speak & Spell apart from the rest of Depeche Mode’s equally impressive, if not altogether darker, more provocative catalogue. It’s a bit of an anomaly in that sense. By Divine Right’s José Contreras has been drawn to it for years, describing the songs as “more primitive and fun” than anything Depeche Mode has created since. Regardless of their synth-based performance, By Divine Right found the guitar rock riffage at the core of Speak & Spell, and brought the same ebullient spirit of the originals to their song-for-song reworking of the album’s U.S. tracklist.
They’re certainly not the first to ever attempt a guitar-based cover of “Just Can’t Get Enough”, but By Divine Right definitely gets it right, balancing the beat, melody, and energy of the original with their gritty, organic sound. That rougher aesthetic easily translates to “Nodisco” (a song I contend is Clarke’s blueprint for the icy Yazoo classic, “Situation”) and “Photographic”. Still, not long after the trio of guitarist Contreras, bassist Alysha Haugen, and drummer Geordie Dynes start breaking down better known numbers like “New Life” and Dreaming Of Me” you forget that these songs first found life as slick synth pop by a group of starry-eyed New Wavers from Basildon, England back in 1981. With Speak & Spell U.S., By Divine Right breathes new life into a much-loved, cherished album, and marks it as their own.