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 Up, Of 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.