Hailing originally from the worlds of performance and fine art, the Swiss trio Yello (Boris Blank on electronics, Dieter Meier on vocals and Carlos Peron on effects and tapes) is second only to Kraftwerk in the annals of primary European synthpop. Sometimes dark in tone, at other times just plain silly (“Pinball Cha Cha,” “Bananas to the Beat”), the early records — issued in the US on the Residents’ label — never fail to amuse and entertain.
Solid Pleasure is a record of Yello’s exploration of the studio and instruments, surging with discovery and innovation. On this LP, Yello are dark experimenters of the highest order, treading fearlessly through a perilous forest of electronics. The music is a confident cross-pollination of lighthearted pop and avant-garde. Inspired.
Claro Que Si continues Yello’s adventurous innovation, but applies it to dance music with stunning results. Meier’s vocals, though limited in range, slide blissfully against Blank’s synthesizer and backing vocals and Peron’s tape effects to create a pop/disco album full of evocative, warm tunes, evincing a dynamism rare in this sort of music. And they stay far away from pretensions, too.
The Bostich EP presents new versions of songs from the albums, with an otherwise unavailable track, “She’s Got a Gun,” added to the US edition. Remakes aren’t normally essential listening, but Yello proves they’re one of the few bands capable of transfiguring old material rather than rehashing it, and with exquisite intelligence at that.
Yello’s international profile began to rise with a label change and You Gotta Say Yes to Another Excess. Leading off with the dance hit “I Love You” — a bizarre concoction of whispered vocals, pulsing electronic beats and squealing tires — the album is exceptional, blending the light and dark in Yello’s sound without sacrificing humor or atmosphere (particularly on the swirling “Lost Again”). “No More Words” recites the title over herky-jerky rhythms and little else; “Great Mission” is a suave dramatic travelogue. The record’s second half (side), featuring “Swing,” the minimal “Heavy Whispers” and the neo-funk of “Pumping Velvet,” is especially strong. There are two different Yello EPs: both contain longer versions of three Excess songs; the import adds the non-LP “Base for Alec,” the domestic replaces it with “Bostich” (again).
With the departure of Peron, the band lost its more eccentric sonic impulses. Meier’s vocals have gone from wondrously strange to cloying; guest musicians provide vocals, piano, drums and guitar, making this a most routine and non-intriguing release. The stylized Europop of Stella is respectable (the urgent “Vicious Games” and “Angel No”), theatrical (“Domingo”) and evocative (“Desert Inn”), but only the moderately irritating “Koladi-Ola (Low Blow)” smacks of the old Yello. Stella also includes “Oh Yeah,” a catchy tune that resurfaced with aggravating frequency in films and TV commercials for several years. The New Mix in One Go is a diplomatic assortment of tracks from the first four albums, some in remixed or rerecorded form, plus a few fresh cuts, including “Live at the Roxy.”
One Second finds the duo mining an increasingly conservative stylistic vein, serving up sophisticated adult pop with occasional Latin accents that do little to distinguish the material. Polite Latin accents on a few songs provide character; Continental excursions and adult pop fill out the program. Meier and Blank split the chores on One Second simply: Boris composed and arranged the music, Dieter wrote and sings the lyrics. Billy Mackenzie of the Associates contributes lyrics and histrionic vocals to the romantic ballad “Moon on Ice,” while Shirley Bassey outdoes him with an even bigger diva turn on “The Rhythm Divine,” the album’s grandiose high point. (Mackenzie subsequently recorded that tune, for which he also wrote lyrics, with the exact same arrangement).
The New Mix in One Go is a two-record compilation that includes remixes, remakes of old songs and even some entirely new material.
The segued tracks of Flag are meant to be listened to as a whole; as such, the album makes for compelling background music and nothing more. Even the best cut, “The Race,” is merely a composite of elements Yello has used time and again: Latin rhythms, whispered vocals, horn accents.
Baby didn’t even receive an American release, but the three tracks — “Drive/Driven,” “Rubberbandman” and “Jungle Bill” — from it on the incorrectly titled Essential compilation show little evolution in Yello’s increasingly homogeneous sound. The anthology’s sixteen tracks draw far too heavily from the mediocre later albums, with only one cut each from Claro Que Si and Solid Pleasure and two from Excess.
Zebra doesn’t stray too far, but a couple of factors elevate it slightly. Playful cuts like “How How” border on self-parody, but Meier’s audible smile redeems them; more importantly, Blank seems to have been listening to the sorts of European trance and techno artists Yello’s earlier efforts influenced, introducing contemporary dancefloor timbres and rhythms into tracks like “Suite 909” and “Do It.” Not surprisingly, the techno nation eventually paid homage to Yello with a remix album. Hands on Yello includes new incarnations of assorted tracks, created by Cosmic Baby, Jam & Spoon, the Grid, Carl Cox and the Orb; Moby’s jazzy reinterpretation of “Lost Again” is especially entertaining.