Yello – Flag

Twenty-five years ago this week, it was the 1980s, and it was in that decade that Yello scored their two huge hit singles – Oh Yeah and The Race. Both are good, but it would also be unfair to judge their thirty-five year career just on the strength of those two tracks.

The Swiss duo of instrumentalist Boris Blank and deep-voiced professional gambler Dieter Meier had already built a strong reputation by 1988. Flag was their sixth album, and it’s something of a concept album, built around the predictably huge international hit The Race. Most of the tracks are somehow themed or sound like an homage to speed. The first of these is Tied Up, which opens the album with the chant “tied up,” for some reason, before building into big brass and tribal swells. As with a lot of Yello‘s output, it’s (a) very silly and (b) a lot of fun.

The one serious track on the album is the second, Of Course I’m Lying, and it’s a timely reminder that when Yello do serious tracks, they do them very well indeed. Its only real tie to the rest of the album is the bizarre line about how “you’re lying so much better when you drive a car,” but otherwise it’s atmospheric and sweet and sounds a lot like a scene out of a film.

3rd of June is next, a story about someone called Mr. Toony, and despite having studied the lyrics carefully I’m still not sure what it’s supposed to be about. It’s a fun track though, largely chanted with another big tribal rhythm. Then Blazing Saddles turns up to close Side A – not a cover version, although it sounds as though perhaps it should be. With a pumping beat, catchy melody, and atmospheric backing it’s totally brilliant.

Side B kicks off with the single, The Race (actually Tied UpOf Course I’m Lying and Blazing Saddles were all singles too, but none of them would be played ad nauseam during every single sporting event for the next few decades). In its album form, it’s eight minutes long, making it very definitely the focus of the album, but that’s not surprising – it’s also entirely excellent. It’s perhaps tempting to wonder whether the car noise sound effects are a little over the top, or whether the brass build is a bit too much, but it all adds up to the “event” nature of the track which is perhaps why it’s so popular.

From thereon the rest of the album was only ever going to be filler, and true to form Alhambra is pretty lousy. It’s an instrumental, with a bit of chanting and some more tribal drumming, and in fairness it’s not unpleasant; just perhaps a little pointless and falls extremely flat after The Race.

Otto di Catania is better, performed entirely for some reason in Italian, and actually as with all of Yello‘s finer moments it’s heavy with a decadent southern European feel. I’ve studied the lyrics, and I can confirm it’s not actually about anything in particular, but it’s very sweet nonetheless.

If you weren’t too keen on Tied Up then you’re not going to be very keen on the last two tracks. The first was a bonus for the CD version of the album only, Tied Up in Red, which is a rather unnecessary eight minute version of the opening track, and doesn’t really add anything in particular. Then the closing track is Tied Up in Gear, meaning that eighteen of the forty-eight minutes that make up this album are taken up by just one track! This version is a bit livelier, with guitars and stuff, but it’s still a little underwhelming as an album closer.

So Flag is a bit of a mixed bag, all told, which is true for a lot of Yello albums. When they’re good, they’re deep (literally), and full of atmosphere. When they’re not so good, they’re silly and bouncy and often fun too. But this was the album which delivered The Race, which was one of the few Yello tracks which everyone remembers, even if they don’t remember why. And for that, you have to applaud it.

Buy the reissue and you get a nice remaster with an extra track and two more mixes of The Race too – this is the version you’re looking for.

Mercury Music Prize 2010-2012

With the Barclaycard Mercury Prize winner being announced this evening it’s high time that we caught up to the modern day and looked at the last three prize winners. This was a period in which many fans started to suggest the committee might have lost it, and PJ Harvey became the first artist ever to win the coveted award twice.

Barclaycard Mercury Prize 2010

The 2010 award took place on 7th September 2010, at the Grosvenor House hotel, in central London.

Nominees:

  • Biffy Clyro – Only Revolutions
  • Corinne Bailey Rae – The Sea
  • Dizzee Rascal – Tongue ‘n’ Cheek
  • Foals – Total Life Forever
  • I Am Kloot – Sky at Night
  • Kit Downes Trio – Golden
  • Laura Marling – I Speak Because I Can
  • Mumford and Sons – Sigh No More
  • Villagers – Becoming a Jackal
  • Paul Weller – Wake Up the Nation
  • Wild Beasts – Two Dancers
  • The XX – XX

Winner: The XX

Barclaycard Mercury Prize 2011

Presented by Jools Holland on the 6th September 2011, at the Grosvenor House Hotel in London.

Nominees:

  • Adele – 21
  • Katy B – On a Mission
  • James Blake – James Blake
  • Anna Calvi – Anna Calvi
  • Elbow – Build a Rocket Boys!
  • Everything Everything – Man Alive
  • Ghostpoet – Peanut Butter Blues and Melancholy Jam
  • PJ Harvey – Let England Shake
  • King Creosote and Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine
  • Metronomy – The English Riviera
  • Gwilym Simcock – Good Days at Schloss Elmau
  • Tinie Tempah – Disc-Overy

Winner: PJ Harvey

Barclaycard Mercury Prize 2012

As part of the new format, the award shifted back a couple of months and took place on 1st November 2012, at The Roundhouse, Camden.

Nominees:

  • Alt-J – An Awesome Wave
  • Django Django – Django Django
  • Field Music – Plumb
  • Richard Hawley – Standing at the Sky’s Edge
  • Ben Howard – Every Kingdom
  • Michael Kiwanuka – Home Again
  • Lianne La Havas – Is Your Love Big Enough?
  • Sam Lee – Ground of Its Own
  • The Maccabees – Given to the Wild
  • Plan B – Ill Manors
  • Roller Trio – Roller Trio
  • Jessie Ware – Devotion

Winner: Alt-J

Further information

Kevin Pearce – Pocket Handkerchief Lane

In 2010, some or all of Sheffield musical geniuses I Monster teamed up with folk singer Kevin Pearce for one of the best projects of recent years, Skywatchers. I was completely blown away by their album The Skywatchers Handbook, and obsessively looked forward to the follow-up.

Three years on, and it still hasn’t come, but what we do have isn’t far off – for his debut solo album Pocket Handkerchief Lane in 2011, Pearce elected to work with I Monster again as his producers, meaning that this is far from the pure folk music that you may have been expecting.

The first track is Get By, a curiously throbbing but laid back song, and a very sweet song indeed. The slightly grungy middle section is about as dark as things get on the whole album actually.

Pearce has a wonderfully expressive vocal style, which on the Skywatchers album leant a haunting quality to the space and science fiction-obsessed music. Here, stripped of the most inhuman vocal effects, the sound is a little more down to earth.

This doesn’t always work in its favour unfortunately – tracks such as Older Times and Turn Me to Ice are perhaps a little more pedestrian than they deserve to be. Pleasant, of course, but also lacking the punch of which Kevin Pearce has shown himself capable.

Don’t Fall Down is a return to form, with another ethereal vocal over a rather dramatic guitar-driven base, and the middle track Waste is one of my favourites on the whole album, again full of emotion and spirit.

Later tracks Burning Summer Sun and Don’t Tell My Heart are similarly powerful, the former driven by the repeated line “I don’t want to be alone,” and an almost cheerful guitar rhythm. The latter ends with a distinctly premature fade, but then turns into Vultures, which with its electro bassline is definitely one of the best tracks on the album.

The last track is another fine moment – Last Blow Out. Again, somehow Pearce’s vocal does seem to work better when backed with multi-instrumentation rather than just his guitar, or perhaps that’s just my prejudice. But the rhythm and backing on this track really make it a rather powerful closer.

By the end, it’s actually pretty surprising that this whole album has only lasted a little over half an hour – it’s a very easy listen, full of emotion and clever lyrics, and it’s not even remotely offensive. If anything, it is perhaps a little forgettable in places, but the better moments more than make up for the weaker ones.

I’ll apologise for the continual comparisons, but The Skywatchers Handbook this is not. But Pocket Handkerchief Lane is still a very good album, sitting in its weird place on the cusp of folk and electronic music.

The best place to find Pocket Handkerchief Lane is on the artist’s own page on Bandcamp.

Retro chart for stowaways – 25 October 2003

The album chart for stowaways ten years ago looked like this:

  1. Dido – Life for Rent
  2. Goldfrapp – Black Cherry
  3. The Human League – The Very Best Of
  4. Dido – No Angel
  5. Dave Gahan – Paper Monsters
  6. Ladytron – Light and Magic
  7. Erlend Øye – Unrest
  8. Karl Bartos – Communication
  9. Kosheen – Kokopelli
  10. Röyksopp – Melody AM

Meanwhile Erasure scored a number one hit on the singles chart with the new August Mix of Oh l’Amour, and Tomcraft entered at number five with Brainwashed (Hurt You).

Mercury Music Prize 2007-2009

By 2007 the Mercury Prize seemed to have largely forgotten about anything except rock, although it was still a compelling prize. The awards got another sponsor and another new name in 2009.

Nationwide Mercury Prize 2007

The 2007 award was given on September 4th.

Nominees:

  • Arctic Monkeys – Favourite Worst Nightmare
  • Basquiat Strings with Seb Rochford – Basquiat Strings
  • Bat for Lashes – Fur and Gold
  • Dizzee Rascal – Maths + English
  • Klaxons – Myths of the Near Future
  • Maps – We Can Create
  • New Young Pony Club – Fantastic Playroom
  • Fionn Regan – The End of History
  • Jamie T – Panic Prevention
  • The View – Hats Off to the Buskers
  • Amy Winehouse – Back to Black
  • The Young Knives – Voices of Animals and Men

Winner: Klaxons

Nationwide Mercury Prize 2008

Took place on 9th September 2008.

Nominees:

  • Adele – 19
  • British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music?
  • Burial – Untrue
  • Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid
  • Estelle – Shine
  • The Last Shadow Puppets – The Age of the Understatement
  • Laura Marling – Alas, I Cannot Swim
  • Neon Neon – Stainless Style
  • Robert Plant and Alison Krauss – Raising Sand
  • Portico Quartet – Knee Deep in the North Sea
  • Radiohead – In Rainbows
  • Rachel Unthank and the Winterset – The Bairns

Winner: Elbow

Barclaycard Mercury Prize 2009

The 2009 award took place on 8th September, at Grosvenor House Hotel in London.

Nominees:

  • Bat for Lashes – Two Suns
  • Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy
  • Florence + The Machine – Lungs
  • Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires
  • Glasvegas – Glasvegas
  • Lisa Hannigan – Sea Sew
  • The Horrors – Primary Colours
  • The Invisible – The Invisible
  • Kasabian – West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum
  • La Roux – La Roux
  • Led Bib – Sensible Shoes
  • Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Twice Born Men

Winner: Speech Debelle

Further information