Yello: Claro Que Si – US – CD 
- Daily Disco
- No More Roger
- Take It All
- The Evening’s Young
- She’s Got A Gun
- Ballet Mechanique
- Quad El Habib
- The Lorry
- Homer Hossa
- Pinball Cha Cha
While the “Bimbo” single on Ralph was the first Yello I had heard [on community radio in Tampa], the first record I found out in the wilds and bought was something else. It was easy enough back then to find the Ralph pressing of “Claro Que Si.” While I had a jones for hearing “Bimbo,” I am at least pragmatic and know when to be flexible. As it turned out, “Claro Que Si” was a strong introduction to Yello. “Daily Disco” got the album off to a rousing start with one of Yello’s dynamic dance tracks as singer Deiter Meier vacillated between two vocal characterizations to contrast with the flanged synths and jittery sequencers of Boris Blank. This was a track that actually belonged in its namesake; an early example of Yello’s club appeal, which was just one side of a multifaceted branding at the time. As if the next song, “No More Roger” didn’t make abundantly clear.
The band had traveled from Switzerland to San Francisco to meet with prospective label Ralph Records since they were fans of the idiosyncratic Residents. The trip was a good thought since Ralph signed the band and issued their first two albums. “No More Roger” sounded like little else out in the 1981 marketplace with roiling, liquid synths providing the melodrama underneath Meier’s chorused, vocoder vocal. The stark melodrama of the instrumental “Take It All” was a throwback to the queasy cinematic landscapes of the debut album, which I had yet to hear when I got this, but makes perfect sense here.
It served as a long introduction that segued into “The Evening’s Young,” which was the first Yello video I had the pleasure of seeing brief clips of on cable TV somewhere. I was just as taken by Meier’s cinematic eye [and penchant for lighting gels] as I was with the electrifying music. “The Evening’s Young” posited a fascinating portrait of a barfly questioning his redundant existence while Boris Blank and the band created a driving, motorik psychedelia. With the processed tapes of Carlos Peron adding mysterious textures and the solid drumming of Beat Ash and guitar of Chico Hablas all folding into the rich mix. At one point Hablas’ guitar attempted to try for a Tom Scholz styled Boston riffage but Blanks synths stepped up to quickly obliterate the guitar.
The video above was made for the track even though there was no single issued in any market! And the album version contained a dramatic coda [not in the video] that segued into the last song on side one. The brilliant musical “film noir” of “She’s Got A Gun.” The tense rhythm of people walking the city night streets underpinned the storyline and Hablas’ languid guitar was operating in a sort of David Gilmour space with its torrid licks of barely suppressed desire of the kind that propelled this scenario. Deiter Meier was at his suave best here; capable of going mano-a-mano against the likes of Bryan Ferry.
Side two was less pop oriented and more sprawling. If the first side was a night in the city, the second half of the album was a day’s journey through the countryside, with vast areas of no-man’s land populated by desert nomads and speed-crazed truckers. “Ballet Mechanique” featured Meier’s outré vocal characterizations and was punctuated by Reggae rhythms from Beat Ash that served to increase the track’s eccentricity.
“Quad El Habib” was a Bedouin drama with guest vocals from Zine El Abidine [presumably not the Tunisian strongman ousted a decade ago]. The synths streaming like North African winds through the song with clattering synth rhythms punctuating the off beats for an almost Latin flair. Leading to stylistic whiplash with the brash characterization of “The Lorry.” Meier’s vocal was in your face with his almost musical wordless bellowing which constituted the song’s “chorus.”
Still more different was “Homer Hossa.” With Carlos Peron’s field recordings suggesting a sunny afternoon on Mediterranean Sea. With birdsong and distant breakers underpinning the sounds of local fishermen with the delicate melody wafting across the almost tribal drums of Beat Ash. It’s so lush and biological, it almost feel like it could be a cross between something from Brian Eno’s “Another Green World” and a Martin Denny record.
The album wrapped with another of Dieter Meier’s portraits of an individual with a unique point of view in “Pinball Cha Cha.” The music bed was an intriguing mixture of French Chanson and proto Acid squelch over serious cha-cha rhythms. But not before dipping into John Barry Bond theme shenanigans in the middle eight. In the world of early Yello, truly anything could happen…and often it did! This time the idea of making a video coincided with releasing the song as a single.
Listening to the first three Yello albums just drives home how much that Carlos Peron brought to the program with his Enoesque credit of “tapes.” But his field recordings broadened the scope of the band’s soundscapes. Once Blank had a Fairlight, he may have thought he could fulfill that same role once Peron opted out for a solo career. But sampling sounds for manipulation on a keyboard is a far cry from the environmental coloration that once was in the band’s toolkit.
I think that Yello lost something when Peron left, but at least they still had the live drums of Beat Ash and the gorgeous guitar stylings of Chico Hablas for another several albums. But as with Kraftwerk, the eventual downfall of Yello was tied in my view to the band’s obeisance to the conventions of dance music when originally, that was just one aspect of the band’s point-of-view instead of being the whole enchilada. The joy of an album like “Claro Que Si” was that it blended field recordings, world music, electronics, psychedelia, and yes, dance music into a quixotic synthesis that was startling and unique. By the time of album number eight, nearly all of the band’s creative gas was empty from their tank for my ears. The last one I heard was “Pocket Universe” which wasn’t worth the dollar I paid for it. I should try some of their more current goods to see what they have gotten up to but truth be told, I enjoyed the Dieter Meier solo album from [yikes] seven years ago far more than the last two Yello albums I still bothered to keep.
It was this album that introduced me to Yello. Pinball cha cha specifically. Still have it on LP. I never took to the first one. But it was the third, You gotta say yes…that got me fully involved. The LP and 12”. Probably my favourite by them.
Their mid period of Stella and One Second and Flag was where some the early quirks got smoothed out. Certainly Peron leaving had an effect. Similar to when Chris Watson left Cabaret Voltaire.
Still excellent though. You could hear the battle between the still slightly off tracks and the hits.
After Flag I lost interest until I picked up Zebra on CD. I edited out the real clunkers on that one and came up with a great album for my iPod.
Then not much until Toy which I found decent once again. Still edited out some of the duets.
I think Yello are somewhat underrated for their body of work. At least the millions they earned from Oh Yeah must have helped.
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jordan – Your take on Yello sounds very similar to mine. With the exception that once I got “Solid Pleasure,” that immediately became my favorite Yello album. For me, it created a wondrous new world in sound. I rank “Solid Pleasure” as being on a par with “Here Come The Warm Jets” for the singular ability to build a complete world.And those are the two albums alone I hold in such regard. Gool call with Carlos Peron = Chris Watson. Very apt comparison. I would pick “Stella” as my second favorite. It holds suavity close to its breast but still has time for a “Stalakdrama” or the utterly bonkers Jazz of “Koladi-ola.” The later work is marred by being dance music first and foremost, and minimizing what Meier brings to the table. I absolutely loved his solo album!
Excellent review. I adore this album-though my first Yello purchase was “Stella”,I still play Claro que Si the most,along with “Solid Pleasure”.
The live version of “She’s Got a Gun” is in my top 3 songs of all time.I have never warmed to anything after “Baby”,though I bought most of them.
Gavin – “Baby” was my line in the sand. I eventually got “Zebra” recently and it had its moments. But it was still clearly inferior. I heard “Pocket Universe” sometime in 2006-7 and it held nothing for me. Way too many guest vocalists. I was down with Billy MacKenzie and Shirley Bassey. Not when Dieter Meier ended up feeling like a guest on a Yello album.
A bit harsh PPM !
My introduction to the world of Yello was through “Gotta Say Yes..” and have loved them ever since. They have just evolved over the 40 years. I know you’re not a fan of anything a bit dancey and the new stuff is a bit like that but you have got to give them credit for still putting out amazingly sounding records. Peron was a bit of an influence and his solo stuff is interesting but as a duo they have matured. My only problem is they do like to rehash old ideas and for the last 2 LP’s they have not let anyone remix their work (You know I like a remix). In fact the last albums average track duration was under three and half minutes!
djjedredy – No remixes and short lengths? Really??! I’ll need to check those out, thanks! I actually love dance music, but not what it has become in the last 30 years. I like dance music that provides stimulation; not its opposite. Dance remixes used to take an album track and add more hooks and development to it. By the 90s, the dance aesthetic was reductive, with dull loops and vocal samples [not actual vocal performances] ruling the dance floor.
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“The Eye” is a bit of a triumph for late period Yello. I haven’t really been too fussed with most of their work post-Flag. Their albums now are quite formulaic.
jsd – Noted.
Regarding the stopping point for Yello and your musings on whether to listen to the newer stuff, I personally lose interest in their discography after One Second, with Flag rating as barely worthwhile. However, I was pleased to find their 2020 release Point to be worthy of attention.
“If the first side was a night in the city, the second half of the album was a day’s journey through the countryside” – hey, so I’m not the only one seeing some kind of continuity throughout the record? Nice! I even had a storyline worked out in my head that took me through the album, would make a great (of course!) mini-movie :)
Though I wasn’t a fan of this album when I heard it. Strange, “Solid pleasure” got me hooked completely, it’s some of my “desert island discs”, as they call it. Yet all other albums left me cold on initial listening and only over time one or the other did rise in estimation. Though I have to say, all their albums have tracks I leave out or skip when listening.
My next favourite for a long time was “Stella”, but strangely and unexpectedly I finally fell for “Claro que si” – don’t really know why but I suddenly started to like it immensely and a body of work, not a source of selected songs. Perhaps I should investigate other albums soon, as I haven’t heard much Yello in a long time.
I also left the party re: the band in late 1980s – “One second” and “Flag” were less and less interesting and when they went full 1990s dance I was off. Though, to their defence somewhat, I remember what you wrote about OMD situation by 1984 – did they really have a space in the marketplace anymore? That’s what Yello must’ve thought, too, and the options were too few to really consider anything else. Still, they lost me and when I heard stuff from their latest album I felt most of all a kind of embarrassment – not a single new idea (understandably), very minimal production (“bad” kind of minimal) and a constant regurgitation of early 1980s ideas (that “Bostich” riff seems to be Blank’s obsession for the last few decades) over boring “current” set of sounds. Others’ estimations may vary, I listened out of simple curiosity with no intention of giving a second listen.
P.S. They were toweringly popular in Russia in the 1990s (alongside Pet Shop Boys and Erasure as a “synth duo”) and, judging by comments on YT, still seem to have a rabid horde of fans! Could never understand such broad appeal, and yet!
Vlad – I can’t help but think that Ralf Hütter and Boris Blank are like twin sons of different mothers. The problems I have with Kraftwerk and Yello in the last few decades are eerily similar. And you seem to echo my feelings pretty closely. And yet, I genuine loved the Dieter Meier solo album. It gave me what I was missing from modern Yello. With abundance. Why not give it a try if you’ve not had the pleasure and see what you think. Now that I consider it, I also loved the Karl Bartos solo albums a great deal more than contemporary Kraftwerk. Hmmm. And yes, the Russian penchant for synth duos in the 90s was interesting. It may be down to the Mittleeuropean roots of that kind of music. It’s as far away as one can get from American Blues and this perhaps speaks to the Russian soul.
Been lurking here for a while, saw this when you posted and wanted to comment as I’d been revisiting Yello recently – perhaps because of their recent(ish) album. Then life happened, and I forgot. So doing this now before it’s too late!
I live in the SF Bay Area, and was a huge fan of The Residents in the late 70’s. They used to send out catalogs and occasional invites to Residents Garage Sale events – and of course I always went. They always had test recordings and marketing goodies. Plus, chances were pretty good you were talking to a band member, especially the skinny guy with the Louisiana drawl.
One day, I’d gone to Grove Street with cash in hand to see what cool stuff I could grab on this trip. One of the gentlemen showed me a new band signed to Ralph – Yello. It hadn’t even been released yet, so along with a bunch of other stuff like The Commercial Album and Fred Frith’s Gravity, trotted home with a new copy of Solid Pleasure from a mystery band. Needless to say, I was completely smitten. I remember listening to that, The Commercial Album and Scary Monsters (and Super Creeps) all fall/winter nonstop.
I’m totally with you about losing Carlos. My parents were beach bums and beatniks, I grew up on Martin Denny, Esquivel, The Three Suns etc. as well as a variety of jazz and classical guitar. The Martin Denny ultra-reverb percussion soundscapes ala Quiet Village are the first thing that hit me with old Residents, and again here. Except – I wanted to dance! The first 2 albums absolutely transport me to another plain of existence. I pegged Carlos as the Eno of the group, but he did a lot more than twiddle knobs. You’re right that the environmental ambient tapes add an entire dimension that an instrument can’t even get close to emulating. They’ve never gotten close to something like Assistant’s Cry, and I really miss that element.
You Gotta Say Yes… seemed to be an obvious attempt to be more accessible, I get it. In fact, my friends liked it unlike the first 2. I also see why Carlos felt it was a good time to split. The shift in concept though was obvious by Stella. While I liked the dark atmosphere a bit more than YGSYTAS, I was missing Carlos a bit more. TBH, until Oh Yeah became a breakout hit – I never paid attention. Sorta like Gary Numan’s Cars.
Flag was my last shot. I seriously get albums 4 thru 6 mixed up. Sure, every album has some good stuff on it – but we’re talking 3 stars compared to 5. Sometime around 1995 I was attending the Stereophile HiFi show in SF, and one of the rooms (Legacy I believe) was using Yello’s Pocket Universe as a demo. It was Celsius that drew me into the room. It sounded sufficiently strange, I had no idea who it was. The shouts made me think Yello, but I wasn’t hearing the smoky voice of Dieter, so I wasn’t sure. I was once I saw the CD on the player, and figured maybe I’ve been missing out for 10 years. I was reminded of Magneto from the first album, and wanted to hear more. Luckily that one was on cutout at Rasputin Records. Well, they did try, and I think that’s as close as they’ve gotten.
Since then, IMHO they’ve put out competent work with one or two good songs, but the albums all blend together – for me anyway. I’m glad they’re still plugging along, I thought that I’d seen the last after Touch Yello. More power to them. Makes me glad I’ve got a streaming service these days so I can give albums a real working over before taking the plunge.
BTW, at the following year’s “Spring Cleaning” Garage Sale I was told to check out a new band called Renaldo & The Loaf. Now, that was just plain weird, but more in line with the Residents, as Title In Limbo proved. Oh, and they sold my a VHS full of video from Ralph alumni. Anyway, enjoy your work as one old Art Director to another. If it wasn’t for you, I might not have gotten (or even known about) Howl! That one makes me want to get up and jump around!
Anthony Meador – Welcome to the comments! What an amazing tale of encountering Yello at the Ralph Garage Sale! Talk about encountering them at the source. I vividly remember seeing the video by Graeme Whiffler for “Songs For Swinging Larvae” back on the Night Flight glory days.