Thursday, 27 December 2012
100 Upstairs At Eric's - Yazoo
Purchased : August 26 1988
Tracks : Don't Go / Too Pieces / Bad Connection / I Before E Except After C / Midnight / In My Room / Only You / Goodbye 70s / Tuesday / Winter Kills / Bring Your Love Down
This was my second Friday afternoon purchase from Soundsearch.
So here we are at number 100 and I'm glad it's a good one. This was a failsafe purchase as I'd already borrowed it while at university in 1985, from a guy called Andy. He was a Geordie, basically decent and friendly but unworldly - he genuinely thought the thudding noises he could hear from the girl in the room above were the result of her skipping - and somewhat lacking in social skills ( those friends who moved into a shared house with him the following year found living with him a bit of a trial ).
This was Yazoo's debut LP released in the summer of 1982. It reached number 2, held off the top spot if I remember correctly by The Kids From Fame, a phenomenon that I took no interest in whatsoever ( though I do now think the original film was pretty good ). The prosaic title refers to Eric Ratcliffe , the producer who went on to be Vince Clarke's partner in his next musical venture, the virtually stillborn Assembly project.
"Don't Go" , their number 3 hit in July 1982 opens proceedings. Clarke plays its edgy synth riff a couple of times then in comes the sledgehammer beat that dominates the song. Although he wrote the song it's clearly from the point of view of a woman involved with a dangerous man and Alison Moyet attacks it with rough-edged gusto and sexual menace. This sort of collision between pop craftmanship and the exploration of darker emotional territory was what this duo was all about and it's their most typical song.
"Too Pieces" is a strange one. As the title suggests ( despite the mis-spelling ) it's two short pieces of music ( both written by Clarke ) welded together , a solitary verse about a woman's unfulfilled longing and a pleasant synth instrumental that could have come from The Man Machine. It's fine but leaves you wishing they'd developed the first song.
"Bad Connection" got a fair amount of radio play through an almost universal expectation that it would be the third single ( which never actually materialised , a rather throwaway new song "The Other Side Of Love" was released a few months later instead ). Heavily influenced by Daniel Miller's cover of Memphis Tennessee ( in the guise of The Silicon Teens ) it's brimming with pop hooks as Alison bemoans the fact that she can't deliver a parting message to her dumped lover because the phones aren't working. To provide a middle eight they mischieviously dialled a random operator , didn't say anything and then recorded her exasperated rather schoolm'arm response. There's no record of the woman being aware of the song but perhaps legal considerations decided against its issue as a single.
Then we come to the problematic "I Before E Except After C" four and a half minute's worth of spoken word collage, the bulk of it by Clarke, Moyet's contribution being low in the mix and probably reluctant. In the latter half there are some little snatches of synth music to sugar the pill but they don't really help. I think the idea is to replicate the babble of information hitting a child's brain at primary level but for me it doesn't work and I'm always tempted to skip over it.
"Midnight" is the first of Moyet's songwriting contributions, the mea culpa of a woman who's cheated on and lost her dutiful man. Starting off unaccompanied, Moyet 's bluesy vocal is passionate but inexpert - she wanders off-mike on some words - and Clarke sounds like he's struggling to string something together to accompany her until the coda when she restricts herself to just groans and he can play a simple melody line. It's interesting but botched in execution.
Side One concludes with "In My Room" an ambitious song about incarceration with Clarke reciting The Lord's Prayer behind Moyet's anguished vocal about personal hell perhaps exacerbated by religious indoctrination. The stop start rhythm ensures its not easy listening.
Then comes their debut single, the deathless electro-ballad "Only You" which reached number 2 in May 1982 ( and number one in a ropey version by The Flying Pickets eighteen months later ). I remember it being discussed on Roundtable and the panel commenting on what a great voice he had so it was a shock when they appeared on Top Of The Pops with Moyet singing. The other shock of course was her size ( the publicity photo was a dual headshot giving no hint that she was the biggest woman in pop since Cass Elliott ). Originally written for Depeche Mode it showed a new side to Clarke it taps into the same vein of suicidal romanticism as Alone Again Naturally or Seasons In The Sun ( I was very susceptible to this line of thought in 1982 ) without resort to the emotional blackmail of Can't Stand Losing You . Moyet's soulful but restrained delivery is a perfect fit for Clarke's melancholy melody riding over the top of the Kraftwerkian rhythms.
One of the most perfect pop records of the decade.
It's followed by "Goodbye 70s" which was actually previously released on a various artists EP alongside offerings by some indie nonentities but only David Jensen seemed to pick up on it. It's a Moyet song , although ironically it's the track that would fit most comfortably on Speak And Spell , the backing track sounding like a harder, faster update of Nodisco. The lyric is hard to decipher, perhaps an attack on the music press for its attempt to manufacture trends although why she would expect the new decade to deliver something different is unclear. The incongruity of the line "I'm tired of fighting in your fashion war" in this context doesn't need further comment.
"Tuesday" is another amazing song where Clarke gets inside the head of a thirty-year old woman, this time agonising between the prospect of a new life and deserting her family. Rising out of a low synth drone the song is a slow mounful lament with a wonderful vocal from Moyet, wordlessly accompanying herself as she bewails the woman's situation, each verse culminating in the exhortation "Pack up and drive away". The music speeds up just as the woman's realised she can't go anywhere emphasising the hopelessness, like a friend driving away because there's nothing to be done.
Moyet's "Winter Kills" is just as bleak but in a different way, the season a metaphor for a relationship degenerated to the point where the participants are looking to inflict the maximum amount of pain on each other. The sound is not far removed from Ultravox's icy Your Name with a desolate piano accompanied only by muffled single beats and later in the song, Closer synth washes and half-heard whispers. Moyet's vocal glides between nasal sneer and pained whisper as befits a song where she's both victim and aggressor eventually becoming only a ghost in the background on the coda. It's surely only waiting for the call to soundtrack the next Scandinavian crime drama.
Moyet also claims the closing spot on the album with "Bring Your Love Down" a hard-slamming electro-dance track with Moyet the sexually confident female assuring her itchy-footed lover that he won't find anyone better. Again Clarke seems to have re-used a melody from Speak And Spell ( this time Puppets) but it's an effective closer with Moyet given the space to ad lib as she crushes him into submission.
This was an excellent adventurous debut which for me just shades it over their only other LP which we've previously discussed.. Neither party would do anything quite as good again.