Record Review: Yaz[oo] – Upstairs At Eric’s

Sire Records | US | CD |1987 | 9 23737-2

Sire Records | US | CD |1987 | 9 23737-2

Yaz: Upstairs At Eric’s [U.S. edition] – US – CD [1982/7]

  1. Don’t Go
  2. Too Pieces
  3. Bad Connection
  4. I Before E Except After C
  5. Midnight
  6. In My Room
  7. Only You
  8. Goodbye Seventies
  9. Situation [remix]
  10. Winter Kills
  11. Bring Your Love Down [Didn’t I]

Back when I was in college, I made it a point to regularly read Billboard Magazine, the bible of the US record industry while whiling aways the hours in the college library. I recall reading about Yaz, the new band that Vince Clarke [ex-Depeche Mode] either in the “Dance” columns or the “Import” sections. Much ado was made about “Situation,” the former B-side that had been remixed into a dancefloor breakout hit that was sweeping all of the “rock discos” that I was not frequenting at the time. While I had not been a believer of Clarke-era Depeche Mode, I nevertheless probably bought Yaz’s debut album, “Upstairs At Eric’s” the week of release as it was a high profile release. I liked it fine, but was not such a believer that I ever bought their follow-up album, “You And Me Both” in 1983. By 1985, the LP hit the trade-in pile as I doffed tons of vinyl in the uptick to the digital lifestyle.

<insert 31 year gap…>

A recent trip to the Harvest Records basement sale revealed a copy of the straight US CD for eight bits. How could I not grab it at that price? More importantly, how would it stack up after all these years off of the Yaz train? I finally gave it a spin this morning and “Don’t Go” remained a strong, if minimal kickoff to the varied synthpop program. Short, sharp 3 minute dance pop that go in under the wire and left before you had a chance to be bored, even thought the song was almost nothing but hook, in the tried-and-true Vince Clarke fashion.

I found the next track, “Too Pieces” to be more my style. The finely etched electropop seemed to owe a lot to the middle movements of Kraftwerk’s “Autobahn” with the motorik rhythms gently percolating. I found the contrapuntal melodies in long instrumental section prior to the middle eight to be quite lovely. The fact that the singing stopped much less than halfway into it showed a determination not to hew closely to formula. This was really nice to hear!

“Bad Connection” sounded for all the world like a leftover track from the “Speak + Spell Session.” Cheeky electropop with bold, shiny melodies of little complexity. If I wanted something more out of the ordinary, it was delivered on the next track, “I Before E Except After C.” The track sticks out like a sore thumb as the exercise in audio editing [none dare call it a song] never coalesces into anything you could have ever expected from Mr. Clarke. Synthesizers don’t even enter into it until near the 1:30 point. I can’t help but think that Clarke had heard “My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts” and thought “I want some of that!” Pure B-side material and it’s hard to believe that it made the cut on the album, thought I could see Mute head Daniel Miller absolutely loving this brush with the avant garde from one of this label’s cash cows at the time.

The following “Midnight” began with an edgy a capella bluesy vocal intro from writer Alison Moyet as she finally put her stamp on the album, apart from singing. After the intro, it surprised as the song settled down into a pretty electropop vibe that managed to hold two disparate stylistic threads together fairly effectively. “In My Room” managed to successfully mate the spoken audio editing hi-jinx of “I Before E…” with an actual song to achieve something far more intriguing and left-field.

In typical industry fashion, side two of the LP kicked off with the winsome hit single “Only You.” Another 3 minute [and ten second] poptune from the pen of Vince Clarke. “Goodbye Seventies” sounded at the time like a sentiment that we could all get behind as we waited for that decade’s chrysalis to fully slough off from the shiny new decade with so much potential that was wasted as it turned into a rehash of the 60s with worse drugs and music. Yes, for those who had not lived through it, the 80s was no more than the 60s with computers.

The big US single was swapped off of the UK album for a track called “Tuesday” which I only just found out the name of. I have never heard it, but “Situation” was a very groovy bit of synthfunk that had a great Francois Kevorkian remix. The 5:40 12” mix was used on the album so if you bought the US 12” you heard the same track on the A-side. I’ve never heard the 3:44 7” version, but I assume that the song ends cold before the breakdown. This was the one song that Moyet and Clarke co-wrote, surprisingly enough.

That left the harrowing piano ballad “Winter Kills” and the concluding “Bring Your Love Down [Didn’t I],” two more Moyet tracks. The last one was the quintessence of a great deep dancefloor cut. Hearing the album after so long, with the exception of the annoying “I Before E…” I can’t really complain about the album too much, and yet I see why and how I lived without a copy to hear for over three decades. The album is an admirably eclectic construction, but it fails to really thrill or even gel; perhaps calling attention to its roots as a late period synthpop excursion featuring two disparate artists that failed to make a strong impression on these jaded ears. It’s true that I never really got a yen for Vince Clarke until the point seven years after this album when I chanced to hear Earsure’s “Wild” playing in-store and it against all odds, made me a believer.

As for Alison Moyet, I never heard the first note she sang solo to this very day.  It didn’t look like I was missing anything from what I picked up from UK music rags. The second Yaz album never happened for me either. I bought the “Nobody’s Diary” b/w “State Farm” 12” and the B-side in particular bored me. I sold that and this LP off, but in the early 1990s I did run across the non LP single “The Other Side of Love” on UK 12” and purchased it since it was not a track on either album, but it has sat in the Record Cell, unplayed to this day. Perhaps the time to listen is nigh?

– 30 –

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11 Responses to Record Review: Yaz[oo] – Upstairs At Eric’s

  1. Tim says:

    Never, ever, ever, got infected with the Yazoo DNA. This is an 80’s act I just don’t get the love for.
    Alison Moyet solo, so-so, never really explored it much but 1993’s Essex is one that I really, really like from start to finish. I have no idea what possessed me to buy it in the first place but you know it has the fingerprints of Ian Broudie all over it and I very much like the Terry Hall solo album that he worked on that came out the following year.

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  2. Echorich says:

    It’s actually quite heartening that our Yazoo impressions diverge. While we have much the same opinion of Speak And Spell, I have always felt that Clarke walked away from Depeche Mode with much more focus on what he wanted to explore over the next few years.
    From the hardcore New Wave/Disco hybrid of Don’t Go to the electronic love poem Only You and the New Wave Tone Poem of Winter Kills, this album soundtracked my many trips to and from University deep in the underground of New York City. When I go back to this album it’s the diva turns of Alison Moyet that I want to return to time and time again. Don’t Go, Goodbye 70’s, Situation and Bring Your Love Down, Didn’t I are just scorching new wave dance floor staples for me.

    As for You And Me Both, Nobody’s Diary is firmly ensconced in my all time to 50 songs. To this day, whenever I hear Nobody’s Dairy, it stays with me for days. Sweet electronic pop mixed with sadness and longing…pure magic. Clarke must have realized by the time it came to recording the follow up album that he had a very special voice. it’s filled with electronics that act as a counterpoint to Moyet’s deep, bluesy, soulful vocals. No manipulation of the voice to mirror the music, just an almost competitive counterpoint that is full of rubbery tension and minimalist accompaniment.

    I’ve always admired that the pair moved on after the second album. I don’t know if Clarke was ever planning on there being a third album. I think all the themes he was interested in exploring at the time were done. When he reemerged with The Assembly and Never Never, the blueprint was already there. By the time of the (not credited as The Assembly) follow up with Paul Quinn’s dulcet tones, he was moving into territory that would find itself come into bloom on Erasure’s Wonderland.

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    • Taffy says:

      I’m with Echo on this one. Upstairs at Eric is phenomenal (I Before E permanently banished to some distant planet where exasperating noodlings go to die) and I just can’t live without it. Both Yaz(oo) albums are divine artifacts of the shotgun musical marriage between Clark and Moyet, which surely wasn’t meant to last. And rarely have I been so emotional at a live music event than when I attended their reunion tour 8 summers ago.
      I’ve closely followed both of their careers following the split, and while Alf has had her ups and downs, I’ll always be a fan.

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      • postpunkmonk says:

        Taffy – Well, if I ever see “You And Me Both” for $1.00, I will certainly pick it up. Actually, I find it somewhat perplexing that there have been no DLX RMs of the Yazoo albums. Only a 1990 German RM of the first Yazoo album sported a pair of 12″ mixes and that was it.

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  3. Jon Chaisson says:

    I got into this one a bit late, ironically right around the same time I finally figured out how good Erasure is! It’s not a phenomenal album by any stretch, but it’s got some great tunes on it. One of our local tv stations used the intro to ‘Situation’ as their opening credits song, so I had to give them props for that!

    I once used “In My Room” as the soundtrack to my film class project in college (alongside Yello’s “The Evening’s Young” and Cocteau Twins’ “The Thinner the Air”) as an experiment on the difference between the bustle of the city and the quiet of my small hometown. Not my best work, but I did like some of the ideas I came up with, like the long disintegrating ending of IYR playing over the credits. ;)

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  4. Vlad says:

    How strange it is that “I Before E Except After C” was retained for the US release while they dropped “Tuesday” – a legitimate song that is actually one of Yazoo’s best. Why was it? Meanwhile, that “The Other Side” track is for me their nadir, still have tough time listening to it. Why did they bother…

    As for the album discussed, overall it’s a bit of a mixed bag for me – I rate their second effort higher, though they both have their strong and weak moments. Heck, all of the albums Vince has been involved in follow that formula – generally quite strong, often with the flashes of brilliance, but with one or two misses or even absolute stinkers. Not the master of a long form, our Vince, it seems…

    As for your point about the 1980s I’m really interested to read about that “60s with computers” thing more fully. Hope you’ll have time to lay out that perspective for those who, like me, was only born in the 1980s (and in the wrong country too :o). Or maybe you’ve written about it earlier?

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Vlad: “The Other Side Of Love” is a nadir to you? Gosh, that makes me sort of curious to finally play my copy! I felt that by the decade’s middle, when I began to lose a bit of interest, that the 60s were too dominant a force in contemporary pop culture. The 60s seemed to play out only with the latest technology. Prince went psychedelic and sort of lost me. Fashion became a throwback to the late 60s – only with new fabrics and colors not possible back then. Then acid house brought back drug music – all now possible with computers.

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      • Tim says:

        I think you’re comment is ranging closer to the end of the 80’s than the middle.
        First the 60’s as far as culture, politics, etc go in the USA is really more a decade or so measured from Kennedy’s assassination to Nixon’s resignation. The 70’s are really the aftermath of the impeachment through the election of Ronald Reagan.
        The thing that happened is this, the 70’s were really scattershot in the USA, pretty much everything and anything could happen. It was a very eclectic decade where the pendulum could swing from the Carpenters to the Sex Pistols quite quickly, that’s just music but it’s a good image of the swings that could happen. Gas rationing one year and cheap oil the next (although at the time most yanks didn’t think that gas was cheap).The Cold War in this decade was reasonably restrained which wasn’t such a bad thing as the country was recovering from the impeachment of Nixon, losing a war in Viet Nam and redefining itself with a trifecta of rights movements, black rights, womens rights and gay rights.

        What changed it was the election of Reagan in 1980 and with that the push for a really cut and dried ”this here is real America and real Americans (and if you ain’t this than what the hell is wrong with you?) began in earnest. By mid decade this country was a political and cultural mess, largely because the RR administration had started culture wars that are still being waged to this day. In the late 80’s the Wall came down in Berlin and that is a huge event that affected the US in all ways because up until then we had the monolithic USSR and Warsaw Pact. This is such a giant game changer because for four decades we had been in a war where we defined ourselves by our perceived valours and also how we were not like the godless commies. A lot of the left was fairly left to their own devices because the #1 issue was security against Communism. Once the Wall fell you had a whole industry that needed a new enemy, and in the ensuing three decades we have met that enemy and he is us.

        The 80’s was a huge mess that started as the end of the party of the 70’s and turned into a raging hangover under 12 years of Reagan/Bush. It just got worse as each year wore on.

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        • postpunkmonk says:

          Tim – I was talking culturally, not socially. Politically, it was a completely different ball of wax as you astutely point out. The 60s absolutely died once it became okay for the government to kill student protesters with gunfire. The Kent State massacre effectively quashed political dissent in this country for at least a generation and it’s never been more than a ghost of its former self; mission accomplished!

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          • tim says:

            i would love to hear Vlad’s thoughts on this. I visited his blog and Vlad appears to be broadcasting from somewhere in Eastern Europe/former SSR. I am a bit of a Cold War history enthusiast and would be happy to hear the perspective from a voice that lived there.

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