Complicating, circulating: the best of Vince Clarke

He shades sweet melodies with darker tones — happiness isn’t a moment recollected in tranquility so much as a moment discovered amid quiet devastation. Whether Dave Gahan, Alison Moyet, Andy Bell, or Feargal Sharkey co-wrote and sang, respectively, Vince Clarke’s craft was such that he looked for flesh to make his words. Often coming off as a Moyet clone but whose heart overcame the limits of his talents, Bell is his longest collaborator. He’s blank, but attractively so, a gay man still looking for kicks no less devotedly than he did in his twenties. Call him callow — I would. It makes him human and likeable and exhausting in the manner of a best friend’s acquaintance.

Moyet? Well. Possessor of an extraordinary voice that swelled as it realized its physical and emotional range, Moyet would spend the rest of her career looking for a context. When she found one, she was staggering — for one thing, Bell never wanted to fuck a beautiful trick as unreservedly as Moyet does on “Ode to Boy.” I’d say she deserved a David Stewart but Stewart, straitlaced about inspiration after 1984, deserved Annie Lennox and no one else. But with Clarke she enjoyed a true partnership, writing songs separately and together, peaking with “Only You,” beloved by early eighties synth skeptics as an example of A Good Song. The problem is they were right.

I haven’t said anything about David Gahan because Moyet, Bell, or Sharkey could have sung his bits on Speak & Spell without fuss.

Here are eighteen Clarke imperishables.

1. Only You
2. Situation
3. Just Can’t Get Enough
4. Nobody’s Diary
5. New Life
6. Chains of Love
7. Dreaming of Me
8. Oh L’Amour
9. Boys Say Go
10. Never Never
11. A Little Respect
12. Drama
13. Fingers & Thumbs (Cold Summer’s Day)
14. Love to Hate You
15. Walk Away From Love
16. Blue Savannah
17. Don’t Go
18. Ship of Fools

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