First in a series, picking out the gems of 80s bands’ post-Imperial Phase catalogue.
Erasure are one of those bands that were incredibly popular for a number of years, but critically under-rated. Their first album, Wonderland, failed to make much impact, despite Andy Bell’s Alison Moyet meets Jimmy Somerville vocals and Vince Clarke’s ever reliable songwriting. That all changed with the release of ‘Sometimes’ in late 1986, which started a string of mostly top 10 hits that ran through until their sole number 1, 1992’s ‘Abba-esque’ EP1, and their first hits collection ‘Pop! The First 20 Hits’.
The mid-90s were a transitional phase, the album ‘I Say I Say I Say’ was their last (to date) number one in the UK album charts, and subsequent releases struggled to have much impact on the charts or radio playlists.
Despite being less commercially successful, Erasure have released 13 albums of new material since 1995, as well as 5 singles collections and a career spanning box set of singles, Andy and Vince’s favourites, remixes, live versions and other rarities. They have not been resting on their laurels!
With the potted history done, let’s have a dive into the music of Erasure’s ‘lost’ era. I’m not going to get too much into ‘deep cuts’, but highlight a few of the singles and album tracks that are every bit as good as their well known hits. There are a few albums that don’t make the cut, such as the frankly appalling ‘Other People’s Songs’, and the rather try-hard ‘Tomorrow’s World’ – which hides too much of Andy’s voice in the now ubiquitous autotune.
Fingers & Thumbs (Cold Summer’s Day) – Erasure – 1995
1995’s self-titled album is a bit of a fan favourite, but it does mark the start of their fall from mainstream success. Produced by Thomas Fehlmann (of The Orb) and long time collaborator Gareth Jones, it is a move away from the three-minute pop songs for which they were known, and makes extensive use of Clarke’s collection of pre-MIDI synths. Most of the tracks are over 5 minutes long! ‘Fingers & Thumbs (Cold Summer’s Day)’ was the second single and contains one of my favourite Erasure choruses, with a wonderful bit of imagery in the line ‘a shattered heart in love’s debris’.
Freedom – Loveboat – 2000
Loveboat was Erasure’s least successful album since Wonderland, caused them to be dropped by their US label, and is generally unloved by fans (fan reviews are mainly critical of Flood’s low-fi guitar heavy production rather than the songwriting). This lead single is a cracking song and I think it is unfairly overlooked. For a deeper cut seek out the Strumapella Mix which focuses on Andy’s vocal and shows just how good he is.
Breathe – Nightbird – 2005
Nightbird was released shortly after Andy’s public disclosure that he was HIV+ and there’s a melancholy introspection that suffuses the album. While this single reached their highest chart position since 1994 the album didn’t break into the top 20.
Gaudete – Snow Globe – 2013
Synth-pop meets a 16th Century carol. Erasure had done Christmas songs before, including ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ on one of the releases of the ‘Crackers International’ EP, so a full length festive album was inevitable at some point. There’s a glacial quality to the arrangement, which is redolent of frosty nights and the distant sounds of church bells. If you want your jaw to drop to the floor, try the a cappella mix where Andy multitracks himself into a whole choir or the Dave Audé extended club mix (you can almost smell the poppers!).
Dead of Night – The Violet Flame – 2014
The Richard X produced The Violet Flame is such a strong album, it is difficult to pick one song. This opening track is very much a statement of intent.
Day-Glo (Based on a True Story) – 2022
Bringing us bang up to date is their latest release. Day-Glo (Based on a True Story). This was produced during the COVID-19 lockdowns using material from the sessions of their 2020 album The Neon. The material was remixed and rearranged by Clarke and the tracks sent to Andy for vocals. Additional production was by Gareth Jones. The result is a collection of sonic experimentation, normally reserved for remixes or B-sides, proving that after nearly 40 years together they still have new things to say.