Listen to this track by electronic-pop foursome and first-phase blippy synthesizer enthusiasts from Basildon, Essex Depeche Mode. It’s “New Life” a key track and second single from their debut 1981 record Speak & Spell.
This song would mark the band’s initial sound, under the creative leadership of Vince Clarke. Clarke would soon leave the band after the album gained traction, and form Yazoo (aka Yaz), and then Erasure later in the decade. Under Clarke’s influence those bands would also demonstrate a notable dexterity when it came to catchy synth-pop.
Incredibly, he would put this skill on display even this early on, with one of my favourite Depeche Mode songs, built on a compelling synth figure, helped along by vocalist Dave Gahan’s distanced and appropriately detached singing style. “New Life” would be their breakthrough hit in Britain, partially on the strength of their performance of the song on Top of the Pops. In the years that followed, they’d build a significant audience on our side of the pond with a succession of albums that moved them into darker thematic and sonic territory.
Despite all that, Clarke would soon cut his losses and leave the band after this record and the tour that followed. But, what is it that his influence brought to the band?
Listen to this song by 80s British soul-synth duo Yazoo, known on these shores as ‘Yaz’, with their 1983 song “State Farm” as taken from their second, and last, album You & Me Both.
Yazoo was an amalgam of two separate approaches to pop music. Fresh out of leading Depeche Mode and then departing after their first album, Vince Clarke was still interested in the possibilities of European synthesizer music made by the likes of Kraftwerk. Alision Moyet was a dyed in the wool R&B singer.
In some ways, it’s a very odd pairing until you hear a song like “State Farm”, which is one of my favourites, or even their more well known hits “Situation”, “Don’t Go”, and of course their take on “Only You”. All of these tunes pushed them to the top of the charts, with their first album scoring top ten in both their native UK, and in North America.
Yet, as successful as this band was, it would only prove to be something of a way station for the duo. Moyet’s interest in soul would draw her out of the band, and she would enjoy a successful solo career by 1984. Clarke would also flourish with a new band, Erasure and with a new singer in Andy Bell – who to my ears sounds a lot like Alison Moyet!
Recently, the pair have reunited for select shows, playing material from this album as well as from their first album Upstairs At Eric’s. They’ve called it the Reconnected tour.
For more information about Yaz(oo), and more music, check out the Yazoo official site.