Christ this is a strange LP! Nope, I’m not reviewing some proto-industrial-flamenco noiseniks from Akron, Ohio, or an album Tuvan throat singers covering all my favourite glam rock classics, this is about as mainstream a 80’s pop album as I own; Yello 1980 – 1985 – The New Mix In One Go*.
Remember Yello? they feature heavily in my Top 3 Swiss groups ever. They were a synth pop duo that, umm, popped up in the wake of Kraftwerk but eschewed their influence’s tasteful minimalism for piling on everything they possibly could – operatic singers, Latin rhythms, wailing guitars, wailing women, wailing men, samples by their thousands. Now at the time I was only really aware of Yello through my mate Miles – who liked keyboards** and the track they had on the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off soundtrack, ‘Oh Yeah’. Christ knows what inspired me to buy The New Mix on 4th January 1994, I’m guessing a little nostalgia coupled with the fact it must have been on sale – I liked elements of it then, but it’s easily been 18 years since I’ve listened to this.
One of my favourite things about Yello is that when the two founders Boris blank and Carlos Perón, needed a singer they decided to bring in Dieter Meier, a man whose CV, much like mine, included being a millionaire industrialist, professional gambler and member of the Swiss national golf team. Plus Dieter Meier was easily the coolest looking guy in a pop group since Ron Mael.
Like I said, it’s a strange bunch of fishes, this. There are bits of it, say the Latino hoe-down with vocals sung (in that often attempted, but seldom so completely achieved) style of the educationally subnormal, accordion fest that is ‘Pinball Cha-Cha’, or ‘Bananas To the Beat’ which single-handedly proves conclusively why Switzerland has contributed very little to reggae over the years and why it should stay that way*^. The best known track here, the aforementioned ‘Oh Yeah’ is so much of its time, so primitive sounding now, all clumpy sampling and novelty vocals, that it’s worthy of attention only as a historical curio these days. So far so scheisse.
Which would be a shame if that’s all there was on The New Mix, a bunch of wacky disjointed ideas born of some then cutting-edge, now blunted, technology and novelty pop, but it really isn’t. Sitting here in 2015, 30 years on from this LP, I am struck by just how prescient some of the tracks and sounds they made were. You can hear dance sounds and textures being invented all over the show, I really like the fact that most of their music is built from samples, but samples created by Boris Blank himself rather than samples from pre-recorded music, it gives their sound a continued freshness.
Standing at the machine every day for all my life
I’m used to do it and I need it
It’s the only thing I want
It’s just a rush, push, cash
Take the pulsing, pumping ‘Bostich’ with its absurdly fast vocal line, big shout-outs and sped-up Kraftwerk beats. It sounds far more like something from 1990-5 than a track that was released in 1980. Ditto the spritely ‘The Evening’s Young’, featuring another fast beat, strange spiralling organ, guitar slashes and a deadpan Bond-villain vocal delivery. On the same tip, see also ‘Base For Alec’ with its spasming, treated guitar sound. My personal fave though is the strange, strange, strange ‘Swing’, which comes on like an oddball Teutonic child of The Cure’s ‘The Love Cats’ and a pissed Ute Lemper singing the soundtrack to The Jungle Book, I don’t own many songs that sound like this. It also goes without saying that not many artists could pull this off and make something worth listening to.
Now special mention needs to go to ‘Domingo’, apparently the tale of a fallen priest, but basically the beat-driven creation of bat-shit loonballs that always found ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and/or ‘Hocus Pocus’ far too restrained. We get operatic choruses, stabs of guitar and a vocal delivery that makes me think of the KLF.
Also massively in the plus column are ‘Vicious Games’ which scratches all the 1980’s dance pop urges I’m ever likely to have, it’s also a really neatly constructed piece of melodrama, that unless my aged ears deceive S’Express plundered wholesale for their, brilliant, ‘Theme from S’Express’. It’s all very sophisticated and European, just the sort of thing a millionaire Swiss industrialist gambler would slip onto his Bang & Olufsen before attempting to slip into something exclusive and foxy.
It was interesting giving The New Mix another good listen, or three and a timely reminder at how innovative Yello really were and how little credit they seem to get for that these days, they really shaped a lot of the music of the 90’s. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m just off to the Casino Royale in my Ferrari 250 for a few hands of baccarat.
PS – inspired by Geoff’s Yellow Post the other day.
*henceforth to be known as The New Mix. I know, shortening things is my business and business is good.
**foolish mortal, did he not know that the guitar would take over the world by the end of 1987 and that Gods like Poison and Roxx gang would bestride the world like the Spandex-clad colossi they were?
*^Yes I know, the divine, Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry lives there now, but I’m going to ignore that as it doesn’t fit my argument.