Replacing the original Catching Up with Depeche Mode compilation, Singles 81>85 subtracts two tracks -- the lightweight curiosity "Flexible" and "Fly on the Windscreen," which surfaced to better effect on Black Celebration -- and adds two, the full six-minute remix of "Just Can't Get Enough" and the original version of "Photographic," Depeche's recording debut on a 1980 compilation album. The overall collection remains the same, though, namely, a run through the peerless singles that kept the band on the charts in the U.K. and elsewhere, as well as building up their increasing cult following in America. It's an embarrassment of riches, from such bouncy early hits as "New Life," "Just Can't Get Enough," and "The Meaning of Love" to the increasingly heavier sound of "Everything Counts," "People Are People," and "Blasphemous Rumors." Nearly all the tracks appear in the original single mixes, some quite different from their album versions, others essentially the same (the one subtle difference in "Somebody" is an echoey percussion pattern buried in the mix, for instance). Two otherwise unavailable singles also appear here: "It's Called a Heart" is pleasant enough, but "Shake the Disease" is great, an obsessive love lyric matched to a wonderful, slow dance melody and an excellent pairing of David Gahan's more aggressive and Martin Gore's gentler vocals. As an introduction to Depeche's brilliant knack for catchy tunes evolving over time into a more challenging but no less popular collection of songs, at once defining and expanding the boundaries of synth pop, look no further.
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett