Archive for Yazoo

In praise (and memory) of the synth riff

Posted in Observations with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2013 by softsynth

Was just listening to Book of Love’s “Enchanted” which came up on the iPhone shuffle and was struck by how cool the riff is. Book of Love were great at the synth riff, and employed it regularly throughout their all-too-short career. Not surprising as they were so brazenly modelled on Depeche Mode, as DM were as of 1985 when BoL made their debut. The Mode were champions of the synth riff. Think of the moments – “Just Can’t Get Enough” (or for that matter, every single song from Speak & Spell), “Get the Balance Right”, “Everything Counts”, “Master and Servant”, “People are People”, “Shake the Disease”, and many many more – some classics, most pretty special in their own way, and that just in the band’s first five years.

They were far from alone, think of the defining sounds of early synth pop from the golden era – O.M.D.’s “Enola Gay”, Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”, aha’s “Take On Me”, Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance”, Gary Numan’s “Cars”, Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”, Yazoo’s “Don’t Go”…or “Situation”…or “Nobody’s Diary”…or you know, just any song from Yazoo. The list is far too long to write. One can reflect back to some of the finest moments of the genre and the riff was dominant. Some were particularly good at it – New Order did ’em great, few were better at it than Vince Clarke, Numan was terrific at it and of course Kraftwerk pioneered the trick. It was the stuff of iconic music moments.  Continue reading


Music by the numbers vs. a touch of soul

Posted in Commentary with tags , , on August 11, 2011 by softsynth

For decades electronic music has been accused of being “soulless” yet so much of the best electronic output has been chock full of the strongest emotional appeal and soul dredged up right from the gut. Instead it’s some of the most popular mainstream music that has had every ounce of soul or meaning sucked from its’ marrow.

Softsynth has recently read illuminating articles on Dr. Luke (in Rolling Stone) and Black Eyed Peas’ Will i am (in various wire stories) where each practically reveled in their absence of heart and/or soul. The former sees creation of a good song as a science, the latter as part of some mathematical equation. In neither case is there any room for deeper meaning either in the chord structure or lyrics.

One of the more frustrating things about the knock on electronic music is its lack of any emotion beneath the surface, behind the machines. The implication being, music made by machines rather than by bashing a fretted or skinned instrument cannot, by default, possess heart, soul or feel. Bullshit, says we. Continue reading

Fascinating Vince Clarke interview

Posted in News with tags , , , , , , on June 24, 2009 by softsynth

On Red Bull Music Academy Radio Vince Clarke (Depeche Mode, Yazoo, The Assembly, Erasure, Clarke/Ware project) does an hour-long interview segment that is a must-listen to Clarke fans. Clarke is Softsynth’s musical idol so this is a real treat (thanks to Side-Line for the heads-up). Clarke waxes poetic about his musical journey through his various musical incarnations (sadly leaving out mention of The Assembly and his very worthy one-off single with Paul Quinn). The piece, one of Red Bull’s Fireside Chats, includes a number of Clarke songs and a nice treat in the form of Clarke’s awesome remix of Franz Ferdinand’s “No You Girls”.The piece also hears Clarke discussing his very interesting work with Martyn Ware (Human League, Heaven 17), news of a new Erasure album to be recorded in the fall (and one can only hope it’s an improvement on the dreadful Light at the End of the World), and Clarke explaining why he has been using softsynths but now has his analogue library back together which should bode well for the next album. Even the casual electronic fan should check it out.

Bands we miss – Yazoo

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , on June 13, 2009 by softsynth

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. Continue reading

Ten essential electronic albums – Part VII and VIII

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , on February 21, 2009 by softsynth

The first couple of years of the 80’s saw electronic music rear its head in earnest. Human League and Soft Cell had number one hits. The most penetrating one-hit wonders of the day were synthpop bands – Flock of Seagulls, The Buggles, Berlin, Taco, Bronski Beat, Thomas Dolby on and on it went. Talk Talk released “It’s My Life”, one of the best songs of the era. Duran Duran and the New Romantics began to dominate the charts the world over. But it wasn’t long before synthpop and it’s hybrid cousins began to atrophy. Suddenly everyone sounded the same. OMD aside, most successful bands of the time stuck rigidly close to the formula that Ultravox and Gary Numan had originated (or at least popularized). Some, like Soft Cell differentiated themselves by their content (in Soft Cell’s case to become the sleaziest band on the planet), but most were blending together to form a kind of monolithic pastiche of increasingly bland musical wallpaper. Then Vince Clarke posted an ad in Melody Maker… Continue reading