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Robert Hilburn : Moyet: More Than Just A Pretty Yaz

April 27, 1985|ROBERT HILBURN

You can't keep a good voice down, right?

Alison Moyet's debut album is a good test of that theory.

There are so many intangibles in pop music that betting on who'll become a star is as risky as picking horses at the track. But it would have been hard early last year to resist wagering a few bucks on Moyet.

That was when Moyet announced plans for a solo career after establishing herself in the British duo Yaz as one of the most commanding young singers in rock.

With a hefty CBS Records contract and hotshot producers eager to work with her, Moyet seemed a cinch to storm the charts.

And sure enough: Her debut album, "Alf," rose to No. 1 in England and it is now climbing the U.S. sales list, thanks in part to generous radio exposure of "Invisible," a blistering R&B-accented tale of romantic rejection. The album jumped 11 places this week to No. 50 on the Billboard magazine charts and the single just cracked the Top 40.

If those figures suggest victory, however, there is a hollow ring to the achievement because there are few of the finely tailored production touches that helped spotlight Moyet's voice so enticingly in the Yaz days (the duo was known as Yazoo in England).

In Yaz's two albums, her partner Vince Clarke, a writer-musician who had been in Depeche Mode, backed Moyet's husky, richly emotional and seductive vocals with sparse but evocative synthesizer-based arrangements that helped define the disco-dance merger of the early '80s.

But "Alf's" producers Tony Swain and Steve Jolley--best known for their work with the slick, uninvolving Spandau Ballet--have abandoned Clarke's economy (except on "For Only You," where they copy it) in favor of a busier R&B punch. While that move would seem reasonable given Moyet's blues and gospel instincts, the problem is that there is no punch in the arrangements.

Her voice carries things on "Invisible" and the spicy "Love Resurrection," but even those tracks lack the fire that would best showcase her voice.

How did things go so wrong?

The suspicion among Yaz enthusiasts as soon as word of the "big bucks" contract leaked out in England was that CBS was going to push Moyet in an ultra-commercial direction. The fears were heightened when publicity pictures glamorized the singer, whose ample figure belies the svelte stereotype of a female pop siren.

Was this yet another case of a record company distorting an artist's vision?

Moyet, still just 23, discussed both points recently in a candid New Musical Express interview which showed her to be a perceptive and refreshingly outspoken pop personality. In the article, writer-critic Adrian Thrills raised the question of whether one of Britain's "finest female voices (had) succumbed to the transient charms of pop glossiness."

Replied Moyet, "I don't think I succumbed to anything because I don't see what I did (in making the album) as being permanent. There was a commercial edge to those songs, but that doesn't mean I won't be doing more adventurous things in the future. I'd agree that parts of the 'Alf' album were overproduced, but then a lot of Yazoo stuff was under-produced and would have benefited from a heavier sound.

"I have changed my views on pop a bit over the last year. Before I joined Yazoo, I used to think that all synthesizer music and all pop records were rubbish. But I can enjoy commerciality now. I can sit down and enjoy a Bananarama record. I don't think every record needs to be deep and meaningful. . . . I like some serious stuff, but I also like being an entertainer."

About the supposed CBS glamour treatment, she noted, "In all honesty, CBS have done absolutely nothing. They've never once told me what I should wear or what I should do. . . . Why should they want to change anything? When they picked me up, I was a relatively successful artist and the way I looked then did nothing to detract from a winning formula.

"If it looks as if I've tarted myself up, then that's just a natural progression for me as a person, not something that CBS have been dictating. It's all part of growing up."

Rather than leave it at that, Moyet took an interesting swipe at critics on the glamour-girl issue.

"Besides," she continued, "you can only take so much criticism of your appearance from certain magazines without it affecting you. The fact is that I was getting flak for what I looked like from supposedly intelligent journalists. I've got nothing against people not liking the music, but half of the music writers don't even want to write about music.

"The last singles review I had in Sounds (a British pop magazine) concentrated completely on my appearance, lumping me and Helen Terry (guest vocalist on some Culture Club hits) together because of our circumference. What has that got to do with my music? . . . They (certain writers) slag off Bananarama for being sex objects and Duran Duran for being pretty boys, but they still put pressure on others to change their image."

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