Album of the Week, June 1: You and Me Both by Yaz
June 1, 2014 Leave a comment
After he left Depeche Mode — dissatisfied with the PR aspect of being in a successful band — Vince Clarke cast about for another musical partner who shared his vision for powerful, emotive electronic pop. Alison Moyet, an apprentice piano tuner and cosmetics salesperson who worked with a number of post-punk bands, fit the bill nicely. Her rich, bluesy voice married brilliantly with Clarke’s expressive, experimental synth work — the mixture of organic and electronic was truly more than the sum of the two splendid parts. The pair named themselves Yazoo — shortened to Yaz in North America to avoid legal issues with an American label and band. Their debut, Upstairs At Eric’s is one of the finest moments of synth pop ever recorded. Smart, experimental, musically rich, and stylistically diverse, it won awards and big chart success in the UK. Unfortunately, this meant that Clarke was faced with the demon of success again. Reluctantly agreeing not to leave a second act after just one album, he settled in with Moyet to write and record You and Me Both. As they began work on the second album, his refusal to do PR and fondness for very precisely scheduled studio work clashed with her freer spirit. As a result, much of the next album was recorded separately. The startling cover image of two dogs fighting was chosen by Moyet in a dark mood, reflecting her feelings about the recording. The duo had ceased to exist by the time the first single was released.
|Title||You and Me Both
|Label||Sire / mute||Release Date||July 4, 1983|
|Producer||E.C. Radcliffe, Vince Clarke & Alison Moyet|
|U.S. Chart||69||U.K. Chart||1|
Despite — or perhaps fueled by — the tension, You and Me Both managed to surpass its predecessor. While not as startling — being a second album — it is much more consistent. The songs are also more richly textured, with Clarke’s growing command of keyboards allowing him to summon up an amazing array of musical styles and tones. Moyet’s voice is in excellent form with the experience of the first album helping her polish and enrich her skills.
Things start off with the duo’s finest moment, Nobody’s Diary. A wonderful don’t-mistreat-me song, it’s propelled by a soulfully resigned vocal married to a wistful but stately keyboard figure. Just angry enough, it’s an amazing display of how much emotion could be packed into a synth-driven song. Softly Over mines similar but darker territory, with the romance being truly broken. A haunting melody is underscored by eerie effects as Moyet sings a lonely, aching chorus. Things kick into high gear with the lusty Sweet Thing. A Motownish number with a driving beat and great synth-horn line, it’s a perfect I-want-you (or maybe not) song and one of Moyet’s best high-energy vocals. Mr. Blue is a quiet, reassuring song, another standout on this great disc. A near lullaby of hope in dark times, it’s subtle and beautiful. The near church organ sound is perfect as well. Good Times is a great dance party anthem, wrapping up side one in dramatic form.
Walk Away From Love is another slice of 60s pop turned on its head. The almost twee keyboard figure introduces a great drum line, opening things up for Moyet to form her own girl group. Like the opener of side one, it has a note of anger, but where Nobody’s Diary was resigned, this one is determined — perhaps this romance can be saved if the right energy is found. Ode to Boy is an odd but effective piece told in fragments. Moyet’s glimpses of the object of her obsession are compelling, with Clarke’s funky riffing moving things along like the slow drive she’s describing. Unmarked is a rare political song, an anti-war lyric chanted over a martial beat. It’s nicely done, remaining just vague enough to become timeless. Anyone is Moyet’s torchiest moment, a wonderful, mysterious song with a slow burn accompaniment.
Track 10 is another sign of the challenges the disc faced. Clarke wrote Happy People for the album. Moyet flatly refused to sing it noting later, “there are just some places you can’t go.” As a result, it’s a rare Vince Clarke lead vocal. For the American market, Sire wisely left off the track, which is frankly a dud. In its place is the quirky, energetic State Farm, the B-side of the Nobody’s Diary single. It’s a funky, greasy groove with a rap-scat vocal and great dance effects. It may be odd, but it really works.
The album wraps up with Moyet’s quiet meditation on death, And On. A lovely tribute to those who die young, it’s quietly moving and a perfect closer for the album, somber and optimistic at once. Sadly it also signalled the death of Yaz, leaving two brilliant albums that stand the test of time.
FURTHER LISTENING: Clarke tried another band of sorts, teaming up with Yaz producer Eric Radcliffe to form the Assembly. Their one single Never Never features great vocals from Feargal Sharkey and is worth tracking down. He finally found the perfect partner in Andy Bell, a man with a voice eerily like Moyet’s (but pitched an octave higher). As Erasure, Clarke and Bell have had a long successful career. Their albums are all decent, but they are fundamentally a singles band. Pop! The First 20 Hits is the essential collection; more completionist listeners can grab Total Pop! with 20 further hits.
Alison Moyet went solo, launching a very successful career that found her voted best female vocalist in Britain two years in a row. Alf, titled after her childhood nickname, is a solid debut. Her best album is Essex, her fourth. A brilliant mix of covers and originals, it shows off her voice in a good blend of acoustic and plugged-in settings. It also features a guitar-based version of Ode to Boy which works at least as well as the original. She’s had a number of hits and the mid-career collection Singles is a great overview. Label troubles and waning interest in performing led to only three releases between 1994 and 2012. They’re all decent but none are essential. Her powerful 2013 return, The Minutes, is a great disc, however and signals a newly energized phase in her career.