Release Date: Nov 11, 2013
Record label: Mute
Genre(s): Holiday, Pop/Rock, Holidays, Christmas
The seeds of the future of both sides of Depeche Mode were mapped out clearly on their debut album, 32 years ago; while Martin Gore was to embrace the group’s dark edge and made a fruitful, stadium-filling career out of it, original writer Vince Clarke took the froth of Just Can’t Get Enough and devoted his life to making beautifully catchy songs laden with hooks and simplicity. Erasure often get dismissed as being too frivolous, but this Christmas release demonstrates Clarke’s all-conquering way with a melody on original songs such as Bells Of Love, Loving Man and Make It Wonderful. A fine collection of seasonal treasures, the only thing you’re left wondering is why it took Erasure so long to release a Christmas album, 25 years after their Crackers International EP.
Considering Erasure had their commercial peak back when pop stars wrote actual Christmas songs and had actual hits with them, it’s amazing it took them nearly 30 years to give it a go. In theory it’s a festive match made in heaven: Andy Bell has an innate warmth to his vocals that’s never left him, and because the duo still sound so very Erasureish there’s an instant nostalgic appeal to all of their stuff. A couple of well placed standards, some syrupy originals about presents under the tree, maybe a reworking of one of their vintage hits (‘Ship of Yules’? ‘Paper-Chains of Love’?) and a guaranteed stocking filler would spring forth.
If the holidays are a time of miracles, it's only fitting that Snow Globe at one point combines Kraftwerk beats with a 16th century song, and all by way of Steeleye Span. The track where it happens, "Gaudete", is the same carol that the Span had a hit with in the '70s, but the miracle bit is that Erasure's thoroughly modern take on the cut could warm the heart of a deep space robot, echoing into the vacuum with sequencers, sacred vocals, church bells, and not the slightest hint of cheese. It's vocalist Andy Bell's triumphant and sincere performance of the carol that really sells it, and with years of seeing poignancy and camp as two sides of the same coin, he's set up for a win on Snow Globe, a holiday album that's nostalgic for the animated Christmas television specials of the past with its artwork, but bold enough to drop "I don't believe in your religion/I only know what I can see" during its opening number "Bells of Love (Isabelle's of Love)".
It’s hard to know how to approach Snow Globe, ostensibly the 15th studio album from synth-pop legends Erasure. Is it a record in its own right, or is it a nice little oddity that back in the ’90s would probably have come in the post as a ‘fan club only’ release, lovingly wrapped up in sparkly paper and dusted with icing? As a mish-mash of cover versions of Christmas songs mixed in with brand new compositions, it feels all at once like a bit of both, and neither – a fact that sadly works chiefly to the album’s detriment. Back in 2007 when Erasure released the remarkable Light At The End Of The World, following quickly on from 2005’s Nightbird, it felt like the makings of a golden new era for the duo – but in 2013, after the lacklustre Tomorrow’s World and now this, it’s starting to feel like Erasure are stuck in reverse.
“I don’t believe in your religion, I only know what I can see,” Andy Bell of Erasure sings on “Bells of Love (Isabelle’s of Love)”, the opening track of the British synthpop duo’s holiday album, their first new material in two years. This serves as a kind of disclaimer to reassure the listener that this is a secular effort, despite the J-word popping up here and there on a few covers of old, Jesus-centric standards. New and old tunes occupy the same space here, begrudgingly so.
Albums such as Bad Religion's new Christmas Songs may prove fleetingly fun(ny), but to ensure that your festive LP transcends its way from quirky novelty record to bona fide Christmas classic, it helps if you BELIEVE. Because if you really feel it, the listener may too. James Brown, for example, architect of the masterpiece that is Funky Christmas, was a dedicated Christian, an ordained minister even, as revealed in John Landis' cult documentary The Blues Brothers.