Bands we miss – Yazoo

I’ve often been asked, “what’s your dream concert? Who would you kill to see/to have seen?” The answer has always been immediate and without hesitation – Yazoo. They only properly toured once and never in North America, plus they disbanded in 1983. Yet, this odd mixture of Vince Clarke’s propulsive, driving electronics with Alison Moyet’s big soulful, bluesy voice worked as few acts have since, electronic or otherwise.

Softsynth has discussed Yazoo before, and full disclosure, their debut album, Upstairs at Eric’s is our all-time favourite album, bar none. Their follow up, You and Me Both wasn’t as original or as compelling, but was still chock a block with memorable keepers. 

Yazoo, formed when Clarke left Depeche Mode at the end of 1981, and he needed a singer to help him record the last song he ostensibly wrote for DM, “Only You”, was expert at something we don’t see much these days, even in electronic music, the keyboard riff. Back in that day it was commonplace for electronic songs to be built around powerful riffs; now songs tend to be richer, more densely produced, less dependent on the riff (though ironically, when they do use riffs these days it’s as often as not using riffs from the Golden Era, lifted from Soft Cell {Rhiana}, Depeche Mode {Hilary Duff} or even Yazoo, themselves {the odious Shawn Desman}). The riffs from “Only You”, “Don’t Go”, “Situation”, or “Nobody’s Diary” are instantly recognizable, even today and even lesser-known songs like “(Didn’t I) Bring You Love Down”, “Walk Away From Love”, or “Sweet Thing” stand up as unmatched in terms of the catchy memorable riff. 

But it was Moyet’s voice and aura that made Yazoo something special, something different from any band before or since. Just listen to “Winter Kills”, her piano-based ballad, or best of all, “Midnight”, one of the most emotionally powerful songs ever written and you get a sense of the full power of her voice and her larger-than-life presence. It was a perfect combination – the emotion hidden within the electronic soundscape yanked out for the world to see by Moyet’s delivery; the powerful energy behind Moyet’s soul stylings yanked out by Clarke’s unparalleled synth prowess. It just worked and no one ever again quite managed to bottle the formula quite so well. Even Clarke and Moyet themselves – they split in 1983 after just two albums, unable to sustain the combustible energy these two different personalities and styles balanced – they never quite reached those highs again. Moyet would go on to have a successful debut, Alf, and a series of less successful, but occasionally winsome albums. Clarke would go on to record a hit single, “Never Never’ with Eric Radcliffe and Feargal Sharkey as The Assembly, and form the enduring Erasure with Andy Bell, which would make its own indelible mark on the music scene with a number of classics of their own, but it just wasn’t Yazoo. Often great, but never quite so…”special”. Never quite so unique. Moyet and Clarke would team again in the mid 90s on her song “Whispering Your Name”, which Clarke remixed in his own style and it was the closest thing we’ve had to a new Yazoo song, and while it was kind of awesome in it’s own way, it still lacked the punch of their earlier, magical material. 

Strangely, after being asked for years who we would most have liked to seen in concert, Clarke and Moyet re-teamed last year to launch a tour that finally took them to North American shores. Financial and timing reasons prevented this writer from attending, even as they played New York, a not-unreasonable trip from here, and the regrets begin anew. Will there be another chance? Will they one day record something new to see what could have been? Might there be another Yazoo moment yet to come? Who knows, but in the meantime, we miss them still. 

Watch: Don’t Go


One Response to “Bands we miss – Yazoo”

  1. I’m in Toronto, Canada and we actually rallied on Facebook, creating a ‘bring Yazoo to Canada’ group! Didn’t work…but we did consider driving to Chicago to see them…

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