Synth pioneer Vince Clarke is the Keith Richards of techno-pop. Having helped define a genre of music, he now spends most of his time churning out unmemorable variations on his theme.
Clarke and singer Andy Bell, his lasting musical partner after two or three shorter-lived collaborations including Yaz(oo) and Depeche Mode, made some of the most definitive singles of the ’80s. Their greatest hits album Pop! is simply a necessity for anyone who claims even the slightest interest in synth-pop/dance, and their stylish songs of love were an influence on the genre we would come to know as Techno in the ’90s.
Here’s the thing, though. They’ve never really been an album band. With one or two exceptions, including the underrated 1991 Chorus LP, their most shining moments are all to be found on their singles, usually in their remixed form. Every single from the 1989 Wild! (these boys do like their exclamation points) album, for example, is better in its “dance mix” than the original.
And these days, the singles don’t hit as hard as they used to, or fly as high up the charts, either. Nightbird is only slightly better than their last album of original material, 2000’s Loveboat, in that respect.
“All This Time Still Falling Out Of Love” is a perfect example; definitive digital disco by the man who defined it, it’s still not a patch on “Hideaway” or the best singles from the 1987 Circus.
But it should be said that “Sweet Surrender” is one of Bell’s best lyrics. According to him, it’s anti-war, specifically anti the Iraq war and pro-pacifist. But when I first heard the lyric, I heard it as the openly (really, really openly) gay frontman expressing his frustration at the newest rise of homophobia. It works either way.
I also want to say a word about the lovely cover design by Robert Ryan of This Is Real Art; it’s lovely.
Last minute PS: I want to add that the melodic, gently rocking single “Breathe” has really grown on me.