Yaz: Upstairs At Eric’s [U.S. edition] – US – CD [1982/7]
- Don’t Go
- Too Pieces
- Bad Connection
- I Before E Except After C
- In My Room
- Only You
- Goodbye Seventies
- Situation [remix]
- Winter Kills
- 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?
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