Yazoo: Four Pieces – album review
Vinyl / CD (Three Pieces)
26 October 2018
9 / 10
Legendary synth-pop duo release extensive box set. Louder Than War’s Paul Scott-Bates reviews.
Without Yazoo there may have been no Erasure. Without Yazoo we might not have witnessed arguably one of the greatest singing voices the UK has ever produced. In eighteen short months, Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet recorded two albums, had one tour and then disappeared as quickly as they had appeared. Four Pieces released as a four-album vinyl box set and, Three Pieces the 3cd equivalent, brings together both their albums with selected remixes and much sought-after sessions from John Peel and Kid Jensen celebrating this iconic and influential duo.
In the wake of Vince’s departure from Depeche Mode, he joined forces with ex-punk band member Alison Moyet and offered Mute head honcho Daniel Miller the track Only You. Previously intended as a Depeche Mode track which they turned down (ironically, their first post Clarke single was the similarly themed See You), it became as classic a track as you could possibly imagine. Simple synth backing with ‘that’ voice slowly took the song to number 2 in the charts held back only by 1982 Eurovision winner Nicole with A Little Peace and set the scene for the history that was to follow.
Their debut album Upstairs At Eric’s, opened with Don’t Go the duo’s second single which had recently climbed to number 3 in the UK charts. An out and out pop single, it maybe hinted at what might come from Clarke in later years as it’s infectious synth riff and catchy chorus was difficult to shake free. Moyet’s bluesy vocals were allowed to shine as her voice roared to the point of distortion at times, a complete contrast to the subtle beauty of Only You.
The album was a game changer. Not only did it contain the two fine pop singles but also ventured down the roads of blues (Midnight), funk (Didn’t I Bring Your Love Down) and experimentalism (I Before E Except After C), making it an album that had surprises around every corner. The quite fantastic Winter Kills, a track based around a lone piano and Moyet’s voice showed that Yazoo were able to make subtle, haunting songs as well as out and out pop.
With the release of You And Me Both came the news that Yazoo were calling it a day. The between albums single The Other Side Of Love, lacked some cohesiveness and is missing from Four Pieces but the duo’s fourth and official final single, Nobody’s Diary quickly put the record (sorry) straight. It was, once more, classic pop. Alison was again allowed to display her raw vocals and Clarke’s backing was slightly more involved than ever before.
Interestingly, this second album followed a similar track listing path to its predecessor – starting with an up-tempo hit, it then moved on to delicacy with Softly Over, upbeat pop (Sweet Thing) and then the heart-breaking Mr Blue, you get the picture. There were several possible singles including Walk Away From Love but the star of the album maybe went to Ode To Boy. Another very simple production with voice, light percussion and varied synth effects it holds the listener in complete awe from start to end. On BBC Radio 1’s Round Table programme, Midge Ure of Ultravox accused Mute of being ‘deaf’ by not releasing it as a final single, although it had already appeared as the b-side to The Other Side Of Love. Ode To Boy would also be re-recorded by Moyet for her album Essex.
With Four Pieces comes a collection of eight remixes, some old, some new, and by no means exhaustive. Don’t Go features twice and wild, funny, abrasive State Farm (originally the Nobody’s Diary b-side) gets a well-deserved outing with the Madhouse Mix Edit. Situation also has two versions provided by Richard X and Youth and the brand-new Minute Taker Remix of Winter Kills truly send shivers down your spine.
Used during by a high street retailer for their Xmas 2017 campaign the Orchestral Version of Only You is also included. It is perhaps, a bit of a sore thumb as it sits uncomfortably and to be frank, strings and voice often seem out of sync. The electro riff is sadly missed and perhaps the 1999 Mix would have been a far better choice as it cleverly combines synth with classical to goosebumping effect.
The final contribution to Four Pieces are the John Peel and Kid Jensen sessions from 1982. Containing tracks from Upstairs At Eric’s, their only album at the time, they have become something of a rarity and provide a further insight into the workings of Yazoo. The atmospheric In Your Room appears in both sets and Situation, the track that would be released as a posthumous Yazoo single with the Francois Kevorkian remix, is quite breath-taking.
Four Pieces is by no means exhaustive and there may be some mixes and remixes that fans are aggrieved at not being included but, almost everything is here is one shape or another. Yazoo were an enigma, a short career perhaps but an act that to this day continue to be a source of influence, just ask James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem or Anohni of Antony And The Johnsons and they will undoubtedly testify.
Yazoo are an indispensable part of pop history and Four Pieces testifies the fact with a fitting tribute to a quite unique act.
All words via Paul Scott-Bates. More of Paul’s writing on Louder Than War can be found at his author’s archive. Paul’s website is hiapop Blog and you can follow him on Twitter here, and on Facebook here.