Category: Legacy (Page 2 of 4)

Good Times: The Legacy of YAZOO

This November sees the release of a box set of ‘Upstairs at Eric’s’, ‘You & Me Both’, an 8 song remix set and some previously unreleased John Peel / David Jensen BBC session tracks.

YAZOO were a candle that burned stunningly bright, only creating two albums (excepting live and compilation works) before Vince Clarke and Alison Moyet split and went their separate ways. YAZOO’s gestation started whilst Clarke was still in DEPECHE MODE; the debut single ‘Only You’ was written and offered to Andy Fletcher and Martin Gore but they declined it for the band.

Clarke first became aware of Moyet after seeing her sing in THE VANDALS, a band featuring his mate Robert Marlow and a connection was made when he was the only person to answer her Melody Maker ad seeking a “rootsy blues band”.

A demo of ‘Only You’ was recorded with Moyet and despite initial reservations from Mute Records boss Daniel Miller, the duo were asked to record a new version for potential single release.

Released on 15th March 1982 with the future US club hit ‘Situation’ on the B-side; the track was a slow burner but eventually climbed to No2 in the UK charts, giving Clarke single success that easily eclipsed his former bandmates in DEPECHE MODE. The performance of the single gave Mute the confidence to allow the duo to record a full-length album which resulted in ‘Upstairs at Eric’s’.

‘Upstairs at Eric’s’, named after a place where Blackwing Studio engineer Eric Radcliffe lived and not as is usually thought the space above the studio, was a stellar jump for Clarke following DEPECHE MODE’s ‘Speak & Spell’ album.

Although there were similarities in sound with Daniel Miller’s recognisable ARP2600 drum sounds were still present and correct, gone were the lightweight/throwaway lyrics and in was a mixture of emotionally charged electronic pop like ‘Don’t Go’ and ’Only You’ with leftfield experimentation such as ‘I Before E Except After C’ and ’In Your Room’.

Having recorded ‘Speak & Spell’ at Blackwing, it was the logical choice for Clarke to reconvene there for ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’ but there was an initial hitch; fellow Mute artist FAD GADGET was booked into the main room with Miller, meaning that YAZOO had to work unsociable early morning shifts to accommodate labelmate Frank Tovey.

In an interview with The Quietus, Clarke is quoted as saying that neither he or Moyet really knew what they were doing in the studio and that songs were completed quickly without any unnecessary overdubs or re-works. Listening back to the album now, it is still astonishing how sparse and how few musical elements are present on the tracks.

The fact that ‘Upstairs at Eric’s’ just WORKS is down to the combination of beautifully direct songwriting, carefully programmed interlocking monosynth parts (at this point Clarke was still of the opinion that using chords was a “cop out”!) and Moyet’s incredible voice. In a KRAFTWERK aesthetic, there are no superfluous production elements and the tracks are allowed to breathe and give space to Moyet’s still stunning vocals and Clarke’s synthetic mastery.

A lot of credit for this must also be given to Eric Radcliffe; in interviews Clarke praises the producer’s openness with his studio techniques and commented “if I wanted to run a tape loop around the studio I could!”.

From the single opener ‘Don’t Go’ through to proto-house track ‘Bring Your Love Down (Didn’t I)’, the album showed that soulful vocals and cold electronics could be fitting bedfellows and still remains the measure against which any vocal / synth album should be judged.

Created using relatively minimal equipment like the ARP2600, Sequential Circuits Pro-One, Roland Juno 60, Roland TR808, Roland MC4 / ARP sequencers and a very recognisable Linn LM-1 on ‘Bring Your Love Down’, the album was (at the time) an ambitious piece of work that 36 years later, remains a career peak for both Clarke and Moyet.

Tracks such as ‘Midnight’ and ‘Don’t Go ‘ B-side ‘Winter Kills’ still pack a huge emotional punch and the beautifully understated latter would come as a huge shock for those used to the synthetic cheesiness of some of Clarke’s earlier work (see: ‘What’s Your Name?’).

The spoken word-based ‘I Before E Except After C’ was yet another curveball, featuring Eric Radcliffe’s mum and cut-up vocals by both Clarke and Moyet, it still remains a wonderfully eerie and hypnotising track, despite being very much at odds with the other pieces on the album. Tellingly, the track was maybe deemed a bit too experimental by Mute and was dropped for the first CD release of the album in favour of versions of the more commercial ‘The Other Side of Love’ and ‘Situation’.

Highpoints of the album include the era-baiting ‘Goodbye 70s’ and mainly instrumental ‘Too Pieces’; only the telephone-themed love song ‘Bad Connection’ comes across as slightly throwaway, but does at least counterpoint some of the darker-themed songs.

Upon release, the album proved itself to be a huge success on both sides of the Atlantic, hitting No2 in the UK and eventually going on to hit platinum status in the USA.

Tracks from ‘Upstairs At Eric’s also latterly got syncs in the spy series ‘The Americans’ with both ‘Don’t Go’ and ‘Only You’ being featured in season 3 when Paige Jennings’ dad buys her the album as a far cooler alternative to a DURAN DURAN one.

As a stop-gap, Mute released the lightweight ‘The Other Side of Love’ as a single before the duo reconvened. Retrospectively, Moyet was less than charitable as to why the song wasn’t performed on the ‘Reconnected’ reunion tour: “We left out stuff that translated less well to live work. Personally I always thought ‘The Other Side of Love’ was a bit w*nk! It is my least favourite track. I didn’t like singing it and Vince was not bothered by it, so we left it out!” – it’s excluded from this retrospective as well.

With Clarke only envisaging the act as a one-album project, it took pressure from his publisher to persuade the duo deliver a follow-up which meant that ‘You & Me Both’ became the second and final YAZOO work.

In comparison with its predecessor, there were two major differences in the overall concept of ‘You & Me Both’; firstly Clarke’s newly purchased Fairlight CMI (one of two bought for their earlier tour) is all over the album, giving a far more organic sound with marimbas, vibes and brass textures often taking precedence over the trademark synthetic ones.

In an early interview with Deb Danahay for the YAZOO Information Service, Clarke confessed that the Fairlight was his “favourite synth”, primarily because “I don’t have to tune it!”.

Secondly, with a couple of exceptions, most of the lyrical content on ‘You & Me Both’ is an icy cold soundtrack to a break-up; the one and only single ‘Nobody’s Diary’ is a gut-wrenching tale; Moyet’s vocal line “…for the times we’ve had I don’t want to be, a page in your diary babe” could easily be directed at Clarke and his now notorious refusal to stick at his musical projects.

The working pattern on the album was more of a 9 to 5 affair, but involved Clarke creating his musical parts in isolation and then Moyet turning up at Blackwing to lay down her vocals without him around. ‘You & Me Both’ remains the only album to have a song fully vocalled by Clarke in ‘Happy People’ which MOYET refused to sing and also contains an early un-recorded Depeche live track ‘Secrets’ which became ‘Unmarked’.

The band announced their split shortly after the release of ‘Nobody’s Diary’ and this resulted in Clarke refusing to be involved with promotion of the album, leaving Moyet to talk to the press alone.

Although the new long player secured the duo a critically acclaimed and deserved No1 album, the lack of tour and promo meant that sales tailed off; ‘You & Me Both’ sold approximately half the units of ‘Upstairs At Eric’s’.

Even the 23 Envelope-designed album cover of two barely visible dalmatians fighting appeared to be a talisman for the sadly doomed musical relationship. Despite the acrimonious dissolution of YAZOO, the sense of their being unfinished business meant that Clarke and Moyet did reconnect for some live performances in 2008 which gave audiences a chance to experience the ‘You & Me Both’ tracks live for the first time.

Finally, a one-off get together at the Mute Short Circuit Festival in 2011 was the last time the duo would appear on the same stage. When asked as to whether this performance would be the band’s ‘last hurrah’, Moyet told The Electricity Club: “Never say never, but I would say I doubt it would happen again.That’s more to do with the fact that Vince was married to DEPECHE MODE, he’s married to ERASURE and I’m like that transitional relationship. So it’s almost like when he comes back to perform with me, it’s almost like when he comes back to perform with me, it’s a bit like kinda having a shag for old times’ sake and that doesn’t really work when you’re married!”

So what of the legacy of YAZOO? A musical partnership which appeared an unholy alliance on paper worked out so well that it indelibly changed the face of modern pop music. Before even discussing credible artists which were influenced by Vince and Alison, ‘Only You’ cemented itself as a huge popular favourite with the acapella cover by THE FLYING PICKETS and a hybrid orchestral version (also featured in this package) was used as the soundtrack for the 2017 Boots Christmas advert.

It’s almost impossible to imagine artists such as LA ROUX, LADY GAGA, ROBYN or GOLDFRAPP existing without the template that Clarke and Moyet forged and ‘Four Pieces’ provides a welcome opportunity to reassess their impact.

The BBC sessions will be the reason most will invest in this new collection, the versions of songs recorded for John Peel and David Jensen showcase a rawer sound with many alternative synth and drum sounds.

The Peel version of ‘Don’t Go’ showcases a completely different lead sound which is a lot less sawtoothy, whilst ‘Midnight’ features an alternative synth arrangement to the one on ‘Upstairs at Eric’s’. The mix of ‘Bring Your Love Down (Didn’t I)’ recorded for Jenson features a contrasting lead melody synth, while ‘Too Pieces’ brings Clarke’s Fairlight to the fore and arguably ‘In Your Room’ excels over the one featured on the original album. Meanwhile, fans of Moyet’s vocals will also enjoy the subtle phrasing differences to those which appeared on the final mixes of the two albums.

Omissions? YAZOO completists would have appreciated the appearance of the duo’s TV work including ‘Get Set’, ‘The Other Side Of The Tracks’, ‘Trak Trix’ and ‘Data Run’ as well as the debut tour interval instrumental ‘Chinese Detectives’ and ‘Nobody’s Diary’ B-side ‘State Farm’,  but this would be a minor quibble.

These are classic albums that will never get old, never really date and if you don’t have them in your collection now you have no excuse not to invest in a copy. Absolutely essential.


‘Four Pieces’ is released as a vinyl boxed set by Mute Records, a CD variant entitled ‘Three Pieces’ is also available from on 2nd November 2018

http://yazooinfo.com/

https://twitter.com/yazooinfo

http://mute.com/artists/yazoo


Text by Paul Boddy
25th October 2018

2nd Thought: The Legacy of OMD

Photo by Eric Watson

It all began with a KRAFTWERK-influenced ditty warning about environmental catastrophe, one that has become poignant again in the 21st Century…

“I became friends with Wolfgang Flür and Karl Bartos in the 90s, and was invited to Wolfgang’s flat for dinner” said Andy McCluskey at the Electri_City_Conference in 2015, “on the wall was a gold record for ‘Radio-Activity’ which was a hit single in France. I was telling them that ‘Radio-Activity’ was the song that most influenced OMD and told them ‘Electricity’ was just an English punk version of ‘Radio-Activity’. They replied ‘Yes, we know!’… it was that obvious!”

In an accolade already accorded to ENO, JAPAN, SIMPLE MINDS, ABBA and THE POLICE, OMD’s first four landmark long players ‘Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’, ‘Organisation’, ‘Architecture & Morality’ and ‘Dazzle Ships’ are being reissued as Half Speed Abbey Road vinyl remasters. Packaged in reproductions of their original Peter Saville designed sleeves complete with die-cuts where appropriate, these releases from Universal Music reaffirm OMD’s often forgotten role as premier electronic pop pioneers.

Originally released in February 1980 on the Factory Records inspired Virgin subsidiary Dindisc Records, ‘Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’ was a promising debut album from Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys, two lads from The Wirral who had finally been able realise their passion for electronic music following the purchase of a Korg M500 Micro-Preset synthesizer paid for in instalments via a mail order catalogue.

Featuring their third released version of ‘Electricity’, the album also included their chanty commentary on the mechanics of war entitled ‘Bunker Soldiers’. Away from these energetic post-punk synth numbers, on the other side of the coin were ‘Almost’ and ‘The Messerschmitt Twins’, two emotive synth ballads that were equal to KRAFTWERK’s ‘Neon Lights’. However, their naivety was exposed by the inclusion of the quirky instrumental ‘Dancing’ which OMD even dared to play live during their BBC TV debut on ‘Old Grey Whistle Test’!

Even early on in their career, OMD’s concerns about the music industry machine were looming in ‘Julia’s Song’ and ‘Pretending To See The Future’; the latter was outstripped a few months later by a John Peel session version which formed the basis of the full live band rendition when McCluskey and Humphreys retired Winston, their TEAC A3340S tape recorder which had accompanied them on their breakthrough tour opening for GARY NUMAN in Autumn 1979.

OMD’s debut now comes over like a time capsule; ‘Red Frame / White Light’, a lightweight synthpop tune celebrating the 632 3003 phone box that acted as the band’s office captured an era before mobiles and the internet, while in honour of good old fashioned love letter writing, ‘Messages’ was at this point just a song with potential as a single.

Indeed, it was only when ‘Messages’ was re-recorded, produced by Mike Howlett with Malcolm Holmes adding drums, that led to a No13 hit in June 1980 and ultimately the ‘Organisation’ album which came out in October 1980. More gothic in nature, the album began misleadingly with the melodic Motorik lattice that was ‘Enola Gay’.

With its iconic Roland CR78 Compurhythm pattern and wordplay referring to the horrific bombing of Hiroshima by the Boeing B29 Superfortress flown by Colonel Paul Tibbets named after his mother, ‘Enola Gay’ was a clever observational statement about the first ever operational use of nuclear weapons. Massively popular in France and Italy, it also reached No8 in the UK singles chart.

But alongside ‘Enola Gay’ on this much more mature long player, there was also the hypnotic beauty of the often under rated ‘2nd Thought’ and ‘Statues’, the brooding Ian Curtis tribute which was built around an Elgam Symphony organ’s auto-accompaniment. With the purchase of a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, Humphreys began exploring. Often using brassy tones set slightly out of tune for some haunting overtones, it made its presence felt on tracks like ‘The Misunderstanding’ and ‘Stanlow’.

As with the debut, there were a few missteps like the JOY DIVISION aping cover of ‘The More I See You’ which was different if nothing else, while the SPARKS inspired ‘Motion & Heart’ would be improved as a reworked ‘Amazon Version’ for an abandoned follow-up 45 to ‘Enola Gay’.

With two albums released in nine months, their first Top 10 hit and the biggest record sales of 1980 in the Virgin Records group, a triumphant concert at Hammersmith Odeon that December which concluded with an unexpected massed stage invasion, ended a brilliant year for OMD. But McCluskey and Humphreys could not have foreseen that 1981 would see them get even bigger.

Although Mike Howlett worked on the ethereal tape choir centred ‘Souvenir’, which was co-written by live keyboardist Martin Cooper and became OMD’s first Top 3 in September 1981, scheduling issues meant Humphreys and McCluskey self-produced what would become ‘Architecture & Morality’ with engineer Richard Manwaring, released in November 1981.

Featuring two spirited songs about ‘Joan Of Arc’, these were to become another pair of UK Top 5 hits with the ‘Maid of Orleans’ variant also becoming 1982’s biggest selling single in West Germany when Der Bundesrepublik was the biggest Western music market after the USA and Japan.

The big booming ambience of the ‘Architecture & Morality’ album next to big blocks of Mellotron choir gave OMD their masterpiece, tinged more with the spectre of LA DÜSSELDORF rather than KRAFTWERK.

“People always talk to us about KRAFTWERK, and obviously, they were hugely important” said McCluskey, “But there was another element from Düsseldorf that influenced us, and that was the organic side which was firstly NEU! and then LA DÜSSELDORF and Michael Rother’s solo records.”

The ENO-esque percussive six string thrash of ‘The New Stone Age’, the bouncy but moody ‘Georgia’ and the guitar assisted choral beauty of ‘The Beginning & The End’ demonstrated OMD’s musical ambition.

Meanwhile, the ringing theme of PINK FLOYD’s ‘Time’ was borrowed for the instrumental title track and the epic overtures of the almost wordless ‘Sealand’ also confirmed Humphreys’ affinity with progressive rock.

Malcolm Holmes was in his element on ‘Architecture & Morality’, thumping stark percussive colours while syncopating off various rhythm machines.

“The majority of the drum programming would always be done by Andy or Paul” he said, “My part would be to lay down on that… My favourite period of OMD musically was ‘Architecture & Morality’ because of my involvement and how creative I was being at the time, using the kit differently.”

”I think ‘Architecture & Morality’ was a complete album, it was just so whole” said Paul Humphreys to The Electricity Club in 2010, “The sound of it was unique, every song… it wasn’t a ‘bitty’ album. A few of our albums are ‘bitty’ but that was where we finally found a sound that was OMD. I think the first two albums were leading to ‘Architecture & Morality’. We were refining our sound and then we found it.”

Meanwhile in ‘She’s Leaving’, there was a big fourth hit single in-waiting from the album characterised by its sweet melodies, forlorn vocals and crunchy electronic percussion; “We got hold of some Pearl syndrums and we were all messing around in the control room with little white noises and stuff like that” Holmes remembered. But thanks to McCluskey’s belligerence in vetoing its UK single release, that hit never happened, something he would later regret as Top 5 hit singles were to become less automatic a year later as OMD hit something of an existential crisis.

One thing successful bands should never do is stray off their vision. But OMD listened to criticisms that their cryptic songs about inanimate objects and deceased historical figures had no relevance in fighting political injustices; of course this view was coming from journalists on a mission, who were rather hypocritically living off expense accounts and sipping cocktails in fancy hotels!

With their label Dindisc also folding, OMD were absorbed into the main Virgin Records group.

A little bit lost, McCluskey and Humphreys returned to the experimental bedroom ethos of their pre-fame VCL XI days and “got angry” with Emulators and a Sony short wave radio; the disillusionment led to the ambitious if flawed ‘Dazzle Ships’ released in March 1983.

A fractured statement on the state of the world with a conceptual approach not dissimilar to KRAFTWERK’s ‘Radio-Activity’, it was characterised by short abstract pieces which over time have mostly proved to have worked. Ironically, one that didn’t work was ‘Time Zones’, a snapshot of the world through telecommunications which outstayed its welcome by at least half a minute.

Although ‘ABC Auto-Industry’ was an amusing novelty piece that needed some accompanying performance art for it to really make sense, the sample heavy ‘Dazzle Ships (Parts II, III & VII)’ captured the tension of an underwater battle while ‘Radio Prague’ symbolised the spectre of The Cold War, a theme that would be explored within a Germanic pop context, crossing NEU! with KRAFTWERK on the magnificent ‘Radio Waves’.

Utilising a similar manic pace, ‘Genetic Engineering’ possessed a fistful of energy and a typewriter in a combination that was first heard on ENO’s ‘China My China’, while ‘Telegraph’ was a far more vicious if metaphoric attack on TV evangelism and religious cults than ‘Blasphemous Rumours’ by DEPECHE MODE ever was…

Salvaged from earlier B-sides, ‘The Romance Of The Telescope’ and ‘Of All The Things We Made’ highlighted the shortfall in material but their inclusion was justified by their serene quality, but they were significantly not the best tracks on ‘Dazzle Ships’.

Echoing the bassline movements of JOY DIVISION’s ‘Atmosphere’ and laced with mournful Emulator strings, the solemn but beautiful ‘Silent Running’ offered a perfect metaphor for misguided neutrality. Most harrowing though was the news report about “a young girl from Nicaragua whose hands had been cut off at the wrists by the former Somoza guards…” that began the waltz-driven ‘International’ with McCluskey’s anger about economic corruption, political hypocrisy and torture in captivity still sadly relevant today.

Although savaged by critics on its initial release and ultimately resetting the course of OMD, this nautical adventure has now been reassessed by many as a lost work of genius. It’s not quite that, but it is certainly a much better album than it was originally perceived to be.

Their Dindisc Records boss Carol Wilson said that McCluskey and Humphreys “didn’t know whether they wanted to be JOY DIVISION or ABBA!”, summing up their awkward but ultimately rewarding musical ethos. However, after the commercial failure of ‘Dazzle Ships’, OMD headed to the Caribbean and then Hollywood which brought them American singular success with ‘If You Leave’ before imploding after a US tour opening for DEPECHE MODE in 1988.

And while McCluskey maintained sporadic success with the OMD brand for a number of years, it would take a reunion with Humphreys and 2013’s ‘English Electric’ to deliver a body of work that was equal to this wonderful quartet of albums.

With regards OMD’s continuing appeal today, Mal Holmes said “The reason why we’re here is because the first three albums were f***ing great”, although he could be forgiven for not being a total fan of ‘Dazzle Ships’ having only played on three of its tracks!

Despite artists as varied as Vince Clarke, Steve Hillage, Moby, Darren Hayes and James Murphy all publically expressing their admiration for OMD over the years and synth riffs from these four classic albums being appropriated by acts as diverse as INXS, LEFTFIELD, LADYTRON and MARINA & THE DIAMONDS, some commentators have complained they could not be taken as seriously as say DEPECHE MODE because they were not dark enough.

The death of over 100,000 people by nuclear attack and the brutal execution of a teenage girl can hardly be considered lightweight; now there are not many artists that can claim to have had worldwide hit singles about those very topics!

OMD’s ultimate legacy was to successfully combine warm catchy synth melodies and infectious technologically framed rhythms with harsh subject matter in a manner that worked on many levels. Beyond any standard pop convention, this was something that was and still is quite unique.


‘Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark’, ‘Organisation’, ‘Architecture & Morality’ and ‘Dazzle Ships’ are released as Half Speed Abbey Road vinyl remasters by Universal Music on 2nd November 2018

http://www.omd.uk.com/

https://www.facebook.com/omdofficial/

https://twitter.com/OfficialOMD

https://www.instagram.com/omdhq/


Text by Chi Ming Lai
17th September 2018

The Electronic Legacy of AMBIENT

Ambient electronic music is a much misunderstood genre.

One is not talking about JEAN-MICHEL JARRE or VANGELIS who are far too comparatively lively to be truly considered ambient. And it is not ‘chill out’ that’s being talked about either, which seems to lump in any form of dance music that is under 112 beats per minute.

Modern ambient probably came to prominence with BRIAN ENO. While lying in a hospital room after a car accident in 1975, a friend visited him and put on a LP of harp music. However the volume had been set at an extremely low level and one of the stereo channels had failed. Unable to move to adjust this, Eno had a new way of listening to music forced onto him.

In recalling this story for the sleeve notes of his ‘Discreet Music’ album, Eno said the music now became “part of the ambience of the environment just as the colour of the light and the sound of rain were parts of the ambience.”

Eno may not have been the inventor of ambient, but he was almost certainly was its midwife. With its lengthy gradual processes and unpredictable changes, ambient can be listened to and yet ignored. Going against the Western tradition of music where vocals, melody and rhythm are essential components, ambient music is designed to accommodate many levels of listening without enforcing one in particular.

One of the other beauties of ambient music is that the pieces are often so progressive that it becomes quite difficult to remember individual sections.

Therefore on repeated plays, the music can still sound fresh and rewarding. It was an approach that fascinated many and while they may not have released whole works, artists such as DAVID BOWIE, THE HUMAN LEAGUE, OMD, BLANCMANGE and RADIOHEAD recorded ambient pieces for album tracks or B-sides.

Comments about ambient music being “boring” are missing the point, because at points of the day where the state of near sleep looms, music with no vocals, no rhythms and not too much energetic melody is perfect.

Restricted to one album per moniker or collaborative partnership, here are the twenty long players presented in chronological and then alphabetical order which form The Electricity Club’s Electronic Legacy of Ambient. Acting as a straightforward introduction to the genre, it refers to many artists whose comparatively mainstream works may already be familiar.


KLAUS SCHULZE Timewind (1974)

A one-time member of TANGERINE DREAM and ASH RA TEMPLE, ‘Timewind’ was Schulze’s first solo album to use a sequencer, evolving as a longer variation on his former band’s ‘Phaedra’. Referencing 19th century composer Richard Wagner, Schulze transposed and manipulated the sequences in real time, providing shimmering and kaleidoscopic washes of electronic sound using equipment such as the EMS Synthi A, ARP 2600, ARP Odyssey, Elka string machine and Farfisa organ.

‘Timewind’ is available via Mig Music

https://www.klaus-schulze.com


TANGERINE DREAM Phaedra (1974)

‘Phaedra’ was the breakthrough record for TANGERINE DREAM which saw them using sequencers for the first time. Featuring the classic line-up of Edgar Froese, Peter Baumann and Chris Franke, the hypnotic noodles of EMS VCS3s and Moogs dominated proceedings while Mellotrons sounding like orchestras trapped inside a transistor radio. Organic lines and flute added to trancey impressionism to produce a fine meditative electronic soundtrack.

‘Phaedra’ is available via Virgin Records

http://www.tangerinedream.org/


CLUSTER Sowiesoso (1976)

The late Dieter Moebius and Hans-Joachim Roedelius were CLUSTER. Having released their first long player together in 1969, their fourth album ‘Sowiesoso’ was CLUSTER’s first fully realised exploration into ambient electronics. With gentle melodic phrasing and unimposing rhythmical patterns, the title track was a wonderfully hypnotic adventure that welcomed the listener into the soothing world of the longer player’s remaining aural delights.

‘Sowiesoso’ is available via Bureau B

http://www.roedelius.com/


ASHRA New Age Of Earth (1977)

ASH RA TEMPLE’s Manuel Göttsching was looking to visit synthesized climes and explored more progressive voxless territory armed with an Eko Rhythm Computer, ARP Odyssey and what was to become his signature keyboard sound, a Farfisa Synthorchestra. An exponent of the more transient solo guitar style of PINK FLOYD’s David Gilmour, this template was particularly evident on New Age Of Earth’, a beautiful treasure trove of an album.

‘New Age Of Earth’ is available via Virgin Records

http://www.ashra.com/


STEVE HILLAGE Rainbow Dome Musick (1979)

One-time member of GONG, solo artist and an in-house producer at Virgin Records, Steve Hillage had a love of German experimental music and ventured into ambient with long standing partner Miquette Giraudy. Recorded for the Rainbow Dome at the Festival for Mind-Body-Spirit at Olympia, these two lengthy Moog and ARP assisted tracks each had a beautifully spacey quality to induce total relaxation with a colourful sound spectrum.

‘Rainbow Dome Musick’ is available via Virgin Records

https://twitter.com/stevehillage


HAROLD BUDD & BRIAN ENO The Plateaux Of Mirror (1980)

Mostly piano-oriented, its backdrop of shimmering synthesizer and tape loops of voices was conceived in a sound-world that Eno had created via his various instrument treatments. With Budd improvising live, Eno would occasionally add something but his producer tact was to step back if nothing extra was needed. ‘The Plateaux Of Mirror’ was a lovely work with resonating ivories of the acoustic and electric variety. A second collaboration came with ‘The Pearl’ in 1984.

‘The Plateaux Of Mirror’ is available via Virgin / EMI Records

https://www.haroldbudd.com


BRIAN ENO Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks (1983)

Recorded as a soundtrack to a documentary film about the Apollo Missions to the moon, one of the inspirations was to react against the uptempo, manner of space travel presented by most TV programmes and news reels of the day with its fast cuts and speeded up images. Eno wanted to convey the feelings of space travel and weightlessness. Although based around Eno’s Yamaha DX7, the album was quite varied instrumentally, featuring his brother Roger and Daniel Lanois.

‘Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks’ is available via Virgin / EMI Records

http://www.brian-eno.net


ROGER ENO Voices (1985)

The debut album from the younger Eno, ‘Voices’ captured a sustained mood of dreamy soundscapes and aural clusters with its beautiful piano template strongly reminiscent of Harold Budd’s work with brother Brian, who was also involved on this record via various electronic treatments although it was actually Daniel Lanois who produced.

‘Voices’ is available via Virgin / EMI Records

http://www.rogereno.com


DAVID SYLVIAN & HOLGER CZUKAY Plight & Premonition / Flux & Mutability (1988 – 1989)

By 1986, the former JAPAN front man wanted to get away from singing as reflected by the ‘Gone To Earth’ bonus album of instrumentals. Sylvian found a willing conspirator in CAN’s Holger Czukay who had developed several unconventional compositional techniques using devices such as short wave radios and Dictaphones. Through a series of improvisations, the duo came up with two companion long players that conveyed a sinister yet tranquil quality drifting along in complex spirals.

‘Plight & Premonition / Flux & Mutability’ is available via Grönland Records

http://www.davidsylvian.com/

http://www.czukay.de/


HAROLD BUDD The White Arcades (1992)

Unlike the comparatively optimistic air of his work with Eno, Harold Budd’s solo journeys often conveyed a more melancholic density, probably best represented by the haunting immersive atmospheres of ‘The White Arcades’. An elegiac combination of shimmering synthesizers and sporadic piano  provided an austere depth that was both ghostly and otherworldly, it was partly inspired by his admiration of COCTEAU TWINS whom he collaborated with on the 1986 4AD album ‘The Moon & The Melodies’.

‘The White Arcades’ is available via Opal Productions

https://www.facebook.com/music.of.harold.budd/


STEVE JANSEN & RICHARD BARBIERI Other Worlds In A Small Room (1996)

With ‘Other Worlds In A Small Room’, Steve Jansen and Richard Barbieri created an atmospheric collection of electronic instrumentals that they considered “Ambient in the traditional sense”. Alongside the three new pieces, there was an appendix of four suitably complimentary tracks from their 1984 album ‘Worlds In A Small Room’ had originally been commissioned by JVC to accompany a documentary about the Space Shuttle Challenger and its various missions.

‘Other Worlds In A Small Room’ is available via https://jansenbarbieri.bandcamp.com/releases

http://www.stevejansen.com/

http://www.kscopemusic.com/artists/richard-barbieri/


VINCENT CLARKE & MARTYN WARE Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle (2000)

‘Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle’ was composed by Vince Clarke and Martyn Ware as part of an Illustrious art installation at The Roundhouse in a circular, white clothed room where the colours referred to in the titles of the six lengthy pieces were “programmed to cross fade imperceptibly to create an infinite variation of hue”. Using binaural 3D mixing techniques, the sleeve notes recommended it was best heard using headphones while stating “This album is intended to promote profound relaxation”.

‘Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle’ is available via Mute Records

http://www.illustriouscompany.co.uk/


WILLIAM ORBIT Pieces In A Modern Style (2000)

Trance enthusiasts who loved Ferry Corsten’s blinding remix of Samuel Barber’s ‘Adagio For Strings’ will have been shocked if they had bought its virtually beatless parent long player. Orbit’s concept of adapting classical works was that he wanted to make a chill-out album that had some good tunes. In that respect, a collection featuring lovely electronic versions of Beethoven’s ‘Triple Concerto’ and John Cage’s ‘In A Landscape’ could not really miss.

‘Pieces In A Modern Style’ is available via WEA Records

http://www.williamorbit.com


ALVA NOTO & RYUICHI SAKAMOTO ‎Vrioon (2002)

Alva Noto is a German experimental artist based in Berlin and ‘Vrioon’ was his first collaborative adventure with YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA trailblazer Ryuichi Sakamoto. A beautiful union of piano, synth shimmers and subtle glitch electronics proved to be an unexpectedly soothing and  meditative experience that was gloriously minimal over six starkly constructed mood pieces.

‘Vrioon’ is available via Raster-Noton ‎

http://www.alvanoto.com/

http://www.sitesakamoto.com/


MOBY Hotel: Ambient (2005)

Originally released as part of the 2CD version of ‘Hotel’ in 2005, Moby couldn’t find his copy and decided on an expanded re-release. Inspired by the nature of hotels, where humans spend often significant portions of their lives but have all traces of their tenancy removed for the next guests, the ambient companion progressively got quieter and quieter. The emotive ‘Homeward Angel’ and the solemn presence of ‘The Come Down’ were worth the purchase price alone.

‘Hotel: Ambient’ is available via Mute Records

http://moby.com


ROBIN GUTHRIE & HAROLD BUDD After the Night Falls / Before The Day Breaks (2007)

Robin Guthrie and Harold Budd first collaborated on ‘The Moon & The Melodies’ album along with the other COCTEAU TWINS. ‘After the Night Falls’ and ‘Before the Day Breaks’ were beautiful experiments in duality but it would be unfair to separate these Siamese twins. Serene, relaxing, abstract and distant, Guthrie ‘s textural guitar and Budd’s signature piano were swathed in drifting synths and treatments that complimented each album’s self-explanatory titles.

‘After The Night Falls’ and ‘Before The Day Breaks’ are available via Darla Records

http://www.robinguthrie.com


JOHN FOXX & HAROLD BUDD Nighthawks / Translucence / Drift Music (2003 – 2011)

A sumptuous trilogy featuring two artists who had both worked with Brian Eno. ‘Nighthawks’ was John Foxx and Harold Budd’s most recent collaboration with the late minimalist composer Ruben Garcia and a soothing tranquil nocturnal work with tinkling ivories melting into the subtle layered soundscape with its Edward Hopper inspired title. Meanwhile, the earlier ‘Translucence’ from 2003 was a close relative and classic Budd, partnered with the more subdued overtures of ‘Drift Music’.

‘Nighthawks’ and ‘Translucence / Drift Music’ are available via Metamatic Records

https://www.facebook.com/johnfoxxmetamatic/


JOHN FOXX London Overgrown (2015)

‘London Overgrown’ was John Foxx’s first wholly solo ambient release since the ‘Cathedral Oceans’ trilogy. With the visual narrative of a derelict London where vines and shrubbery are allowed to grow unhindered throughout the city, the conceptual opus was a glorious ethereal synthesizer soundtrack, smothered in a haze of aural sculptures and blurred soundscapes. With ‘The Beautiful Ghost’, as with William Orbit’s take on ‘Opus 132’ from ‘Pieces In A Modern Style’, this was Beethoven reimagined for the 23rd Century.

‘London Overgrown’ is available via Metamatic Records

http://www.metamatic.com


STEVE JANSEN The Extinct Suite (2017)

“I like the effects of calm and dissonance and subtle change” said Steve Jansen to The Electricity Club. Not a remix album as such, the more ambient and orchestral elements of ‘Tender Extinction’ were segued and reinterpreted with new sections to create a suite of instrumentals presented as one beautiful hour long structured ambient record. A gentle blend of electronic and acoustic instrumentation including piano and woodwinds, ‘The Extinct Suite’ exuded a wonderful quality equal to Eno or Budd.

‘The Extinct Suite’ is available via https://stevejansen.bandcamp.com/album/the-extinct-suite-2

http://www.stevejansen.com/


PAUL STATHAM Asylum (2017)

B-MOVIE guitarist and pop tunesmith Paul Statham began his experimental music account with ‘Ephemeral’ and ‘Installation Music 1’. ‘Asylum’ was a more ambitious proposition and featured in an audio visual installation created with painter Jonathan McCree in South London’s Asylum Chapel. The eight compositions together exuded a cinematic, ethereal quality with some darker auras and an eerie sound worthy of the ambient pioneers Statham was influenced by, especially on the gorgeous closer ‘Ascend’.

‘Asylum’ is available via https://paulstatham.bandcamp.com/album/asylum

http://paulstathammusic.com


Text by Chi Ming Lai
22nd August 2018

Sons Of Pioneers: The Legacy of JAPAN

Photo by Nicola Tyson

Although their recorded output covered just five albums over a four year period, JAPAN are one of the most acclaimed bands from the flaboyant and colourful era which many came to know as New Romantic.

JAPAN’s final two studio albums ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ and ‘Tin Drum’ are being reissued as Abbey Road Half-Speed mastered 2LP gatefold vinyl editions with two tracks per side, running at 45RPM to maximise audio quality.

Along with the pair’s predecessor ‘Quiet Life’, they formed the Holy Trinity of JAPAN records on which the band’s reputation was based. The fact that Universal Music have considered there is sufficient demand for such product is an indication of the high regard JAPAN are held. In many social media discussions about bands which people wished they had seen live, JAPAN are invariably one of the acts that get mentioned.

Photo by Fin Costello

As far as their legacy is concerned, if JAPAN had not led the way with their arty aspirational poise, DURAN DURAN would not have had a role model to inspire them to their subsequent success; Le Bon & Co even used JAPAN’s regular photographer Fin Costello to capture the cover image used on their self-titled debut album.

Thanks to JAPAN’s flamboyant bassist Mick Karn who sadly passed away in January 2011, the sound of the fretless bass became ubiquitous in the mainstream for a number of years; it was a playing style that top session player Pino Palladino ultimately adopted and made his fortune from.

Meanwhile, enigmatic front man David Sylvian was the ultimate pin-up for that flamboyant period, but later progressed to becoming a highly regarded solo artist with a no-compromise approach in parallel to Scott Walker, proving that there is life after pretty boy pop stardom.

Today, drummer Steve Jansen and keyboardist Richard Barbieri continue to release solo albums of a primarily instrumental nature as well as working on collaborative projects, while guitarist Rob Dean is now an ornithologist specialising in Costa Rican birdlife.

Londoners David Sylvian, Mick Karn, Steve Jansen, Richard Barbieri and Rob Dean began their career as an aggressive funk laden glam rock outfit with a straggly image not dissimilar to NEW YORK DOLLS.

Looked after by future WHAM! manager Simon Napier-Bell, who had been drawn to the band by Sylvian’s androgynous good looks which he described as “a cross between Mick Jagger and Brigitte Bardot”, the debut JAPAN album ‘Adolescent Sex’ was released in April 1978 by Ariola Hansa, the German label that had steered BONEY M to great success.

While the bizarre mix of rock, funk, glam and electronics achieved little impact in Britain, it was a surprise success with teenage girls in the country of Japan, resulting in the band playing to packed houses at big venues like Tokyo’s Bukodan.

With a reggae element also thrown into the mix, a largely more rock ‘n’ roll flavoured second album ‘Obscure Alternatives’ was released in October 1978; although it too was met with ambivalence, it proved to be a pivotal turning point for the band with the haunting closing instrumental ‘The Tenant’ a sign of things to come.

JAPAN’s continued success in Japan exposed the band members to South East Asian culture and its fascination with modern technology. These experiences were reflected in the recording of ‘Life In Tokyo’ produced by Giorgio Moroder in April 1979, which was arranged at the behest of Ariola Hansa who felt JAPAN should attempt to crack the disco market.

Now acknowledged as the bridge between growly funk-rock JAPAN and the more familiar, mannered and artier version of the group recognised by most today, ‘Life In Tokyo’ was a key interim landmark in their career as a recording that all band members were happy with.

With the more mannered textures of ROXY MUSIC now emanating from their psyche, the electronically assisted template showcased on ‘Life In Tokyo’ was refined for their third album ‘Quiet Life’ released in January 1980.

Produced by John Punter who had worked on ROXY MUSIC’s ‘Country Life’ album, JAPAN found a willing conspirator who truly believed in them. JAPAN’s look also changed with stylish suits, heavier make-up and shorter coiffured hair for an effeminate demeanour that was similar to the New Romantics who were now frequenting The Blitz Club.

The opening title track’s resonant heart was a Roland System 700 driven by Barbieri’s snappy eight step Oberheim Mini-sequencer. Complimented by Mick Karn’s distinctively fluid fretless bass,and Sylvian’s lyrical conclusion that the band were outsiders in the environment they were born into, it was a sure-fire hit… but not yet as Ariola Hansa didn’t see fit to release ‘Quiet Life’ as a single in the UK at that point!

Also on ‘Quiet Life’, there was also an understated cover of ‘All Tomorrow’s Parties’, understood to be Andy Warhol’s favourite Lou Reed composition alongside more uptempo art rock numbers like ‘Fall In Love With Me’ and ‘Halloween’. But the revelations of the ‘Quiet Life’ album were the tear-jerking epics ‘In Vogue’ and ‘The Other Side Of Life’ orchestrated by Ann O’Dell which premiered a very different aspect to JAPAN, one with an emotional centre.

Meanwhile, the gently mysterious ‘Despair’ quoted from some prose by Erik Satie who also influenced its piano aesthetics. Crooned entirely in French, it no doubt took its lead from ROXY MUSIC’s ‘Song For Europe’. Highly cinematic, it was concluded with a glorious melodic ensemble of strings and choirs from an ARP Solina.

After their shaky start, the change in musical style and the more artful demeanour of ‘Quiet Life’ was pointing JAPAN in the right direction and towards Virgin Records. Again produced by John Punter, ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ saw Richard Barbieri seriously getting into technology with the ARP Omni, Polymoog, Roland Jupiter 4 and Sequential Prophet 5 among the many synths used on the album along with his own Oberheim OBX, Micromoog and Roland System 700.

While wonderful melancholic songs such as the title track and ‘My New Career’ were a natural progression of the muzak which shaped the ‘Quiet Life’ album, the band were beginning to tire of this gentle wall of sound and aspiring to do something more dynamic. Indeed, the dropping of the more conventional sounding ‘Some Kind Of Fool’ for the more abstract Bowie / Eno influenced electronic mood piece ‘Burning Bridges’ at the last minute was a sign of that dilemma.

In the studio, Sylvian in particular as the band’s songwriter was seeking to take more control, leading to disagreements with individual band members as well as Punter with regards production.

With Sylvian now writing songs on keyboards, this artistically left little manoeuvre for Rob Dean’s guitar.

But despite his willingness to become more textural thanks to some Fripp inspired E-bowed embellishments, Dean was absent from four of the album’s eight tracks; Karn was also missing from two numbers.

In their place came guest musicians such as Ryuichi Sakamoto on the exotic ‘Taking Islands In Africa’ and Bowie violinist Simon House who provided a solo to ‘My New Career’, beginning a pattern of collaboration that Sylvian would continue throughout his solo career.

Sylvian was aiming for a sparser sound and this was achieved with the mournful Satie-esque ‘Nightporter’. Featuring just Sylvian and Barbieri with session musicians Barry Guy on string bass and Andrew Cauthery on oboe, it was one of the album’s key tracks and a pointer of things to come for JAPAN’s leader.

Despite the tensions, when all five band members were featuring, they were firing on cylinders. The terrific ‘Swing’ combined Sylvian’s poetic travelogue with Richard Barbieri’s Oriental synth textures. In addition, Rob Dean made a full contribution with some excellent six string work as the rhythm section of Karn and Jansen maintained an amazing bounce over the Compurhythm driven bossa nova.

Meanwhile on the magnificently jagged ‘Methods Of Dance’, the spine-tingling middle section saw Jansen contributing drums, marimba and percussive keyboard embellishments bookended by a sophisticated arrangement layers of distinct keyboard parts, Karn’s sax, bursts of tense ringing guitar from Dean and the cry of a Japanese girl named Cyo.

Photo by Nicola Tyson

But both of these songs were incredibly long and complex, formed of many distinct sections in a manner akin to progressive rock.

Now while for anyone prepared to stick out these sub-seven minute tracks which formed half of the album, there would be ultimately be satisfaction and enlightenment, it was not going to prove easy to market such lengthy songs as 220 second edits to national and commercial radio.

With Virgin promoting the album as “Music For Adults Only” and perhaps paradoxically with a key front cover for ‘Smash Hits’, it was close but no cigar. Although ‘Gentleman Take Polaroids’ did not as yet yield a hit single, JAPAN were finally selling out concerts on home turf, notably a show at London’s Lyceum to launch the long player. But cracks were already appearing within the quintet, with Rob Dean leaving after a May 1981 tour supporting ‘The Art Of Parties’ single which he had not actually played on.

However, momentum was building and one party that noticed was JAPAN’s former label Ariola Hansa. In August 1981, they cashed-in with the release of ‘Quiet Life’ as a single which reached No17 in the UK singles charts. As a result, a new younger audience was becoming interested in JAPAN, one that was not only seeking something modern and stylish but with a depth of musicality too.

Photo by Steve Jansen

For JAPAN’s fifth album released in November 1981, the band took the influences of the Far East even further with the Chinese flavoured ‘Tin Drum’. The slimmed down band line-up was reflected in the music.

A much more minimal album than any of the band’s previous work, ‘Tin Drum’ had hardly any guitar while the synths used were restricted to an Oberheim OBX, Prophet 5 and occasionally the System 700, with the work split 55:45 between Barbieri and Sylvian.

That Stockhausen derived minimalism with its sense of space was taken to its zenith with ‘Ghosts’ and its iconic chilling metallic intro. Richard Barbieri told The Electricity Club: “Not being a technically gifted player, the keys were of less importance to me than the actual controls. What I tried to do was to make more events happen from one note than playing 200 notes. The prime example to that is the intro to ‘Ghosts’ because it’s just one triggered note on the System 700, but I’d programmed in this evolving series of movements with filters, LFOs and pitch frequency oscillation. I’ve never been able to quite get that sound again, but it caused havoc for the engineer because there were lots of peaks and it was quite difficult to record.”

Exquisitely programmed as opposed to relying on effects, JAPAN were aiming for synth derived acoustic colours constructed using ring modulation as well as parallel tuning in fourths and fifths for sounds that possessed a dead echo. Produced by another Roxy cohort Steve Nye, the arrangements were simpler with repeating patterns, tight hand played sequences and clean rhythmic tones.

But it was no less sophisticated with the assortment of timbres within those parts providing the variation and the air of Brian Eno and David Byrne’s ‘My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts’ looming. The wondrous ‘Still Life In Mobile Homes’ in particular saw East meeting West with Oriental vocal aesthetics and cleverly programmed organic synthesized sounds sitting next to state of the art digital technology such the Linn LM1 Drum Computer, all with the prowess of YELLOW MAGIC ORCHESTRA.

The lyrical themes of ‘Tin Drum’ flirted with Chinese Communism as Eno had done on ‘Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)’. Sylvian appeared to be taking inspiration from the Little Red Book of Chairman Mao, a point highlighted by the pentatonic polyrhythmic single ‘Visions Of China’ and its less frantic but similarly dida enhanced sister song ‘Cantonese Boy’.

With co-writing credits on ‘Visions Of China’ and the traditional sounding instrumental ‘Canton’, Steve Jansen was playing an increasing role as well, but it was clear that his older brother still maintained overall control.

Jansen told The Electricity Club: “That would have been put down to the fact that what I was doing rhythmically played a bigger part than usual in the inspiration and direction of the songs. But in reality I don’t think it was the right way of doing it. I think all JAPAN’s music was methodically arranged by each member and warranted some co-writing credit however small.”

While Mick Karn was becoming slightly more isolated having not played on ‘Ghosts’, he still provided some memorable bass runs and got a co-writing credit for his dominant mantra and harmonics on the percussively brooding seven minute ‘Sons Of Pioneers’.

But on the whole, the songs on ‘Tin Drum’ were shorter and sharper like ‘Talking Drum’, providing a degree of immediacy that had not been present before; the album became the band’s biggest UK success, both commercially and critically.

However, all was not well within the band. Frustrations about publishing and personal differences came to a head with the now well-documented tensions between Sylvian and Karn tearing the band apart as they soldiered on with a British tour.

The individual band members spent 1982 undertaking their own projects while JAPAN was put on hiatus. Despite rumours of a split, JAPAN became chart regulars in 1982, notching up a further six Top 40 singles including a cover of Smokey Robinson’s ‘I Second That Emotion. However, the biggest surprise came when ‘Ghosts’ caught the mood of the moment with a Top 5 hit that April as the British Task Force was heading south towards the Falkland Islands.

An extensive Autumn tour of the UK, Europe and South East Asia was arranged by Napier-Bell to capitalise on their wider profile as he sought to buy time to keep his charges creatively together.

Photo by Fin Costello

Although the majority of the dates were sold out, JAPAN called it a day at the height of their powers with a final performance in Nagoya, Japan on 16th December 1982.

Sylvian and Karn continued with solo careers as well as collaborating with Ryuichi Sakamoto and Midge Ure respectively, while Jansen and Barbieri worked with both of their former bandmates, as well together as THE DOLPHIN BROTHERS who released an album ‘Catch The Fall’ in 1987.

That same year, relations had thawed enough between Sylvian and Karn for them to jointly record two songs ‘Buoy’ and ‘When Love Walks In’ for the bassist’s second solo album ‘Dreams Of Reason Produce Monsters’ which was co-produced by Jansen.

So in 1989, the quartet gathered at Studio Miraval in the south of France for what was considered to be a JAPAN reunion in all but name. But that episode in itself was a whole other story…


‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ and ‘Tin Drum’ are each released as Abbey Road Half-Speed Mastered gatefold 2LP 45RPM vinyl sets with download key by Virgin Records / Universal Music on 24th August 2018, both albums will also be available in a 180 gram single LP edition playing at the standard 33RPM

http://www.nightporter.co.uk

http://www.davidsylvian.com

https://mickkarn.net

http://www.stevejansen.com

http://www.richardbarbieri.net


Text by Chi Ming Lai
19th July 2018

The Walk: The Legacy of EURYTHMICS

Between April and October this year, sees the vinyl reissues of eight EURYTHMICS albums ‘In The Garden’, ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’, ‘Touch’, ‘Be Yourself Tonight’, ‘Revenge’, ‘We Too Are One’, ‘Savage’ and ‘Peace’ and gives The Electricity Club a welcome chance to look back retrospectively over the duo’s musical output.

Although it didn’t trouble the charts, the debut 1981 album ‘In The Garden’ provided a necessary bridging point between Annie Lennox and David A Stewart’s output as New Wave act THE TOURISTS and their newly convened status as a duo.

Co-produced by the legendary Conny Plank in his Cologne studio and featuring BLONDIE drummer Clem Burke, Robert Görl from DAF, and CAN’s Holger Czukay and Jaki Liebezeit, the album swings between the guitar-driven post-punk sound of ‘English Summer’ and the more rocky ‘Belinda’ which would foreshadow some the band’s more rockist leanings latterly in their career.

Due to Plank’s top notch production and Lennox’s effortlessly beautiful vocals throughout, the album hasn’t dated too badly and if never listened to before certainly doesn’t hint at the stellar jump with their subsequent offering ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)’.

Recorded in their newly fitted out 8 track home studio in Chalk Farm London purchased using a £5,000 bank loan, ‘Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)’ would have come as a complete curveball if as a fan you’d latched onto the more pastoral guitar-based sound of ‘In The Garden’; almost purely electronic in conception and with the backbeat of Stewart’s Movement Drum Computer (which puts in a cameo appearance in the iconic ‘Sweet Dreams’ promo video).

Also significant for the album was the use of Dave Stewart’s EDP Wasp synth which (according to Synth Guru Paul Wiffen) was often recorded using a microphone placed over the in-built speaker in order to capture the sound of the resonating body of the synth’s case alongside its source sound.

With YAZOO’s debut ‘Upstairs at Eric’s’ opening the public’s perception to cold electronics with an accompaniment of soulful vocals, the timing of ‘Sweet Dreams’ couldn’t have been better. There are obvious echoes of Clarke and Moyet in tracks such as ‘Wrap it Up’, but the addition of Stewart’s guitar and the bigger multi-layered vocal production meant that they don’t come across as mere pastiches.

Musically one of the things that becomes apparent on ‘Sweet Dreams’ is Stewart’s knack at creating some truly wonderful synth basslines, often using a Roland SH09. From ‘I Could Give You (A Mirror)’ to the ‘The Walk’, these perfectly counterpointed Lennox’s glacial vocals and set a template for what was to follow with album number three ‘Touch’.

‘Touch’ is often overlooked when it comes to people’s go-to classic electronic albums; this could possibly be down to the huge success of the Calypso-themed ‘Right By Your Side’ which at the end of the day really wasn’t representative of the album as a whole. This is a shame, because ‘Touch’ is arguably the band’s finest hour, tracks such as the singles ‘Who’s That Girl?’ and ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ are matched by album cuts ‘Regrets’ and ‘No Fear, No Hate, No Pain (No Broken Hearts).

‘The First Cut’ echoes YAZOO’s ‘Sweet Thing’ but brings in some live guitar and fretless/slapped bass to the party; whilst the epic 7 and a half minute closing ‘Paint A Rumour’ takes the listener on a spellbinding musical journey incorporating blippy Kraftwerkian electro pop, dub brass and BLANCMANGE-like Middle Eastern synth elements along the way. Unfortunately the band were never truly this electronic again, with the remix/mini-LP ‘Touch Dance’ eventually giving way to 1985’s ‘Be Yourself Tonight’…….

The next two albums ‘Be Yourself Tonight’ and ‘Revenge’ continued to give the band some huge chart hits; ‘There Must Be An Angel’ was the band’s only UK No1 single from the former, but tracks which had the potential to echo EURYTHMICS earlier electronic work (including the Linn Drum-driven ‘I Love You Like A Ball & Chain’) seemed to become an excuse for Stewart to wig-out with a show-off guitar solo.

Songs such as ‘Thorn in My Side’ started to showcase EURYTHMICS steady mutation (and some would say decline) into a US radio-friendly guitar act with most of their electronic elements gradually being exorcised from the bands’ production. In some ways EURYTHMICS followed a similar career trajectory to SIMPLE MINDS with stadium rock leanings starting to filter into their recorded output and before you knew it, songs appeared to be written specifically for large arenas.

With the next couple of albums there were still a few glimmers of experimentation, THE ART OF NOISE-aping, Fairlight-driven ‘Beethoven (I Love To Listen)’ from ‘Savage’ was an unexpected single choice, but stalled at number 25 in the UK charts.

The highlight of 1989’s ‘We Too Are One’ (with its striking cover photo by Jean Baptiste Mondino) was the melancholic break-up single ‘Don’t Ask Me Why’ which in many ways echoed ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’, especially with its use of pizzicato strings.

After a ten year hiatus, ‘Peace’ saw Lennox and Stewart reconvene with the understated ‘I Saved the World Today’ giving them some chart success, only narrowly missing the UK top 10. With its almost PORTISHEAD retro-style textures, it went some way in distancing the band from its more bombastic productions.

By overviewing the band’s output, the listener could cynically surmise that EURYTHMICS jumped on the Synth Britannia bandwagon; riding on YAZOO’s coat tails by adopting an electronic aesthetic and then slowly revealing themselves as the rock band that they actually were all along (underneath all of the production surface). That would however do a huge disservice to their early work, which includes some of the VERY best electronic pop tracks from that era.

Interestingly, Dave Stewart confirmed the spiritual link with YAZOO by eventually going on to work with Alison Moyet, co-writing / co-producing ‘Is This Love?’ under the pseudonym Jean Guiot (used to avoid problems with his music publishers).

The mid-period and latter albums (although in many places giving the band deserved huge commercial success) do however chart EURYTHMICS slow transformation into an entirely different musical beast altogether. For those that bemoan the way DEPECHE MODE now deliver their songs live, should take some solace in that Lennox and Stewart committed far worse musical crimes to some of their iconic synth pop hits than Gahan and co are doing now…

So in terms of influence, what is there left to say about EURYTHMICS legacy? Their nearest contemporaries now would be GOLDFRAPP and PURITY RING; acts that use that male synth / female vocal dynamic.

Completists could possibly complain that the soundtrack to the motion picture ‘1984 (For The Love Of Big Brother)’ and ‘Touch Dance’ albums should have made the set up to a round 10, but for most, ‘Sweet Dreams’ and ‘Touch’ still remain the essential albums to own, with ‘In The Garden’ being seen as more of an interesting curio in the band’s back catalogue.


EURYTHMICS’ back catalogue is reissued by Sony Music in three stages through 2018

http://www.eurythmics.com

https://www.facebook.com/eurythmics/

https://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/eurythmics-catalogue-vinyl-reissues


Text by Paul Boddy
16th April 2018

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