Erasure’s synth pop surprises
By Andy Argyrakis
From the pages of Illinois Entertainer
As one of the synth pop era’s most innovative, infectious and flamboyant acts, Erasure’s been afforded a career that’s spanned over two-and-a-half decades with constant rotation in the clubs, even if traditional radio’s abandoned the band as of late. Despite changing times and tastes, the duo comprised of front man Andy Bell and keyboard player/multi-instrumentalist Vince Clarke appears to be back in full swing following a four year break, that not only finds them providing a decadent throwback to those pulsating ‘80s, but also a fresh and futuristic leaning that could easily contend with Lady Gaga or La Roux throughout Tomorrow’s World (Mute).
“After the last tour in 2007, we thought it would be quite nice to have a break, especially after doing Erasure for 25 years with 13 albums and loads of tours,” shares Bell phoning in during an afternoon off in Argentina. “I released my second solo record Non-Stop and Vince called asking me to hear it before he finished, which is exactly what I do when he’s working on a record. [Also during the break] Vince was installing a studio in Maine, where he lives now, and he went on tour with Yazoo for awhile. It’s always nice doing something outside of Erasure because it gives you a fresh perspective when you go back to the band. We’ve been working together again for the past two years, writing for the new record in L.A., London and New York.”
As for the sounds contained therein, there are plenty of throbbing beats, bubbly grooves and Bell’s bountiful falsetto, though the carefree tunes also benefit from the current touches of producer Frankmusik. The twenty-something relative newcomer already notched up remixing credits for Lady Gaga, Pet Shop Boys and Far East Movement, while his recent solo record cracked the top twenty in the UK.
“Tomorrow’s World is quite a good description of how it sounds,” continues Bell. “There’s a very modern wall of sound in the electronic style with melodies that are much brasher than normal but definitely danceable. I think it seems like a renaissance with Frankmusik, who caught our ear after being suggested by some fans and wound up working out after a series of other producers fell through. He’s breaking through on his own in America and brings a fresh feel and energy to the music. He was only born when The Circus came out [in 1987], but his Mom’s a big fan of our music and Vince’s other projects [like Yazoo and Depeche Mode], so she was very proud.”
Though the disc clocks in at just over a half hour spanning a mere nine songs, there isn’t a let down in the batch, truly standing out as Erasure’s strongest project of this millennium thus far and arguably the best since back in the day. The album serves as a book end to 2007’s Light at the End of the World, both of which mark a much anticipated return to the dance floor following a string of specialty projects, including 2003’s covers-centered Other People’s Songs and 2006’s country re-arrangements record Union Street, which may have allowed the pair to break monotony, though it left some dance-driven fans with their arms folded on the sidelines.
“Lately it’s been about what we feel like doing and keeping it fresh,” explains Bell. “When you’re doing the same songs every night, it’s almost like you’re just singing along to the single, which is hard for me and you can get monkey on the barrel syndrome. I like to try different things now and again with different interpretations of songs, plus my second solo record was minimal electro just to mix it up.”
While the group plots its Tomorrow’s World tour, there’s also going to be plenty of set list shuffling, starting with a mixture of hits and rarities, but gradually incorporating up to a half-dozen new tracks as the October 4 street date approaches. “At the moment we have a set list that ranges from 1985 onwards with a few b-sides and album tracks,” he adds. “We’ll keep the ones that seem to go well with the audience, like “Push Me, Shove Me,” and keep all the main singles, like “Blue Savannah,” “A Little Respect,” “Chains of Love” and “Victim of Love,” and then mix in the new stuff.”
Even though current cuts like “When I Start To (Break It All Down),” “Be With You” and “Then I Go Twisting” are loaded with a sophisticated spread of sugary synths and radio sensibility, Bell isn’t counting on any chart topping singles to help sell tickets to the tour, but rather a viral approach spread by those strictly in the know. Despite selling over 25 million albums worldwide during its peak period, the singer cites a lack of major label backing and a changing industry as reasons the band’s turned away from the commercial tide.
“We’ve had quite a hard time over the past ten years [with airplay] because radio’s changed so much and we’re not very hip I suppose,” he lets out with a laugh. “But it’s still nice to look at our body of work over the past 25 years and see that we really care about the quality of the music, melodies and really pure singing. In some ways, we’re quite old fashioned, but we’re basically songwriters where melody always comes first. Luckily at the moment, many people making electronic music are citing Erasure as an influence and that’s really quite sweet. Other bands and younger people have to discover you for themselves, which in the case of YouTube, allows you to see our whole history. We’ve never really been part of the mainstream, and in some ways, that’s helped us so you don’t get over exposed. That helps us feel closer to our fans and we really cherish them because they’ve stayed interested after so many records and tours.”
Considering the lengthy break since their last trip through town and members moving in different solo directions, the most pressing question is just how long Bell and Clarke will stay interested in Erasure? “We’ve got a great songwriting partnership and there are never any issues between us,” assures Bell. “We’re quite nervous when we meet each other after awhile, kind of like seeing an estranged spouse, but after we wait awhile for the barriers to come down, we get right into the swing of things. There’s not too much fuss because we’re both very low key and it’s best just to leave it and keep it bubbling along. Some people think ‘oh this is a comeback,’ but we just make a record whenever we feel like it.”
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