Release Date: Oct 11, 2011
Record label: Mute
Genre(s): Electronic, Pop/Rock
Few voices have more fervently served the cause of dancefloor endorphins than the crystalline croon of Erasure's Andy Bell – which is why the metallically processed "Hold meeeee" that opens the British duo's 14th album prompts wide-eyed confusion. Did someone just Auto Tune the angel of synthpop? Twenty-six years after the act's first single, the nine-song set shows that keyboardist-mastermind Vince Clarke's genius for weaving grand melodies with ecstatic beats is still intact, but tinny vocal compression muddles throbbers like "Whole Lotta Love Run Riot. " Bell's voice is thankfully less fettered in "I Lose Myself" and the yearning torch song "Just When I Thought It Was Ending"; let's hope we don't lose him again.
Erasure's previous effort returned the synth pop duo to form, so on their 2011 release, and 14th overall, they take the logical step of handing over a bit of their legacy to an outside producer. Electro-pop enthusiast Frankmusik (Lady Gaga, Pet Shop Boys) is the wise choice made here, and the results are generally quite good, sometimes excellent. Many tracks benefit from the attractive combination of lead singer Andy Bell’s increased lyric-writing skills and the hired producer’s presentation of the 2011 house music “thwak,” as both “I Lose Myself” and “Be with You” are fine acknowledgments of Gaga and Benny Benassi’s dancefloor domination.
Following stints in Depeche Mode and Yazoo, keyboard maestro Vince Clark teamed up with singer Andy Bell in 1985 to form Erasure. As the 1980s progressed, many of synthpop’s early pioneers – Kraftwerk, The Human League, Gary Numan – seemed to have disappeared from view, leaving the likes of Erasure and Depeche Mode to carry what remained of the early synthpop baton through the remainder of the decade. A string of hits followed, peaking with their run of albums and singles from The Innocents in 1988 to I Say, I Say, I Say in 1994.
For their 14th album in 26 years, Erasure add a little grandeur to their precise synth pop with help from Frankmusik, an L.A.-based British producer only as old as the band itself. Singer Andy Bell and keyboardist Vince Clarke might be getting up there, but their swooshing melodies and yearning lyrics fit right in with the epic builds, vocal effects and fist-pumping energy of American dance pop, a testament to their solid songwriting instincts. Bell's soaring tenor sounds positively elated by the thunderous beats and delivers with full force on every track.
Twenty-six years and 14 albums in, you expect certain things from electro-pop legacy duo Erasure. Vince Clarke’s synths will be expertly layered and full of color. Singer Andy Bell will go heavy on the vibrato, like plenty of elegant British men who’d rather be soul divas. And half the lyrics will be truly inane, a mix of placeholding clichés and tone-deaf language.
Erasure probably suffers, in some way, from the non-linear rule of musical inspiration; their latest album, Tomorrow’s World, sounds like a lot of other releases in dance and electronic music in recent years, and yet plenty of those names cribbed from groups like them. The English duo’s 14th studio album is an archetypal example of upbeat, affirming, fist-pumping synthpop, and an example of the highest order – but it doesn’t sound very original at all. Not any more.
The duo who wrote gems such as "A Little Respect" and "Ship of Fools" should be saluted for a fine 25-year pop career, but this album won't be remembered as vintage Vince Clarke and Andy Bell. It's their first in more than four years, stuffed with big, bright synthetic dance tracks straining for "feelgood": floor-fillers by numbers, were they not dull to the point of paralysing. Even with Frankmusik included among the production credits, these one-time synth-pop pioneers sound lifeless compared with all the 80s-raiding whippersnappers so indebted to them.