As we’ve discussed previously, I have certain problems with Erasure. They seem to have taken a quite bizarre trajectory from extremely humble beginnings through to a point where they could literally do no wrong in the early 1990s. By 1994’s I Say I Say I Say they were still clinging onto the world of pop but the bubble was already largely bursting around them.
The problem was this: at the same time that they were working with Martyn Ware on their 1994 album, a precocious and new-fangled act known as Oasis were also getting ready to put out their debut single Columbia. The world would no longer be interested in camp, flamboyant pop – they wanted guitars and recycled songs from the sixties. So what did Erasure do about this? They went experimental.
Working on production with electronic legend François Kevorkian and Thomas Fehlmann out of The Orb, and with Diamanda Galás turning up to wail a bit, they came up with a seventy minute epic which actually was, by their later standards, pretty successful. Looking back now, I think rather than being a brief lapse into experimental ambient electronica, this is in fact their last moment of greatness. Either way, nothing would ever be the same after this.
Erasure opens with a relatively little three minute version of their b-side True Love Wars, this time called Intro: Guess I’m Into Feeling, which although the shortest track on the album really gives you a pretty good idea of what the rest of the album is going to be like, with the “song” taking a sideline to deep, throbbing electronics.
The first full track is Rescue Me, which as with many of the tracks is in many ways a traditional Erasure song, buried under multiple layers of dark synth sounds. There are points where it seems to channel Fade to Grey, but it’s the chorus which drives the whole thing ever onwards.
Erasure is probably the best sequenced of all the Erasure albums, with each song naturally leading into its neighbour. Sono Luminus is the third track, and is one of the best on the album – it’s a slower, gentler song, where the overwhelming electronics make a perfect background, and the song seems to sit very comfortably at just a smidgeon under eight minutes.
Second single Fingers and Thumbs (Cold Summer’s Day) follows, a traditionally great Erasure song which perhaps would have been better placed as the first single, but you can hear something very Christmassy about the whole atmosphere of the song, so maybe it wasn’t too bad a choice after all. It got on Top of the Pops, anyway, so I suppose it did the job. The immense middle eight, in which the whole thing seems to fall apart and turn into swirling electronics, was of course excised for the single version.
The third and final single Rock Me Gently ends side one. If you remember any of the singles from this album, the chances are it won’t be this one, released as it was in the Czech Republic and Germany. The Cezch CD is a fantastic package of horrifically long remixes which should probably be reviewed here one day in its own right. But the original album version, although entirely unsuitable as a single in every conceivable way, is a beautiful choral track which ripples on for around ten minutes in total, a perfect centrepiece for the album.
After the hints of the previous track, Rock Me Gently suffers a total collapse and meltdown for its middle section. Three and a half minutes in, everything stops and is replaced by gentle pads and slowly evolving synth lines not unlike what would appear on Vince Clarke and Martyn Ware‘s Pretentious album a couple of years later. Diamanda Gálas turns up and wails inhumanly for a bit, and you have to slightly wonder what crazy journey took Erasure from Who Needs Love (Like That) to this.
Side two is generally the weaker of the two, with a couple of filler tracks and generally less sonic exploration, but it’s deceptive too. Opener Grace is beautiful, pushing the tempo back up by just the one notch, and leading into first single Stay with Me, which although one of their worst choices of single to date is also an absolutely brilliant and beautiful song, driven by flanged pianos and a great Bell vocal.
Erasure have a history of great, well thought out and designed artwork, and Erasure is one of the finest examples of this. The entire album sleeve, with its almost hand-printed sleeve notes, is quite beautiful, while the cover features Vince and Andy peering out from behind an open blind. The singles complete the set wonderfully, particularly the stylised heart of Rock Me Gently. Where they perhaps failed somewhat was with the title of the album – instinct says to me that they simply couldn’t think of a better name. Surely a release called Erasure should represent the typical sound of the band, rather than being the most significant departure from it that they ever made?
Meanwhile the sirens that close Love the Way You Do So carry you through into Angel, almost reminiscent of the recurring theme of the Chorus album, again with some more wailing from Diamanda Gálas. Angel also wins the prize for the most surprising moment on the album when the middle eight turns out to have fallen straight out of the 1980s. The second half of Erasure is definitely deceptive – although less breathtaking, it hides some pretty special moments.
I Love You is another of these. Slushy and predictable the title may be, but from the first seconds of the song, with its slightly harsh arpeggios and pads, it’s apparent that there’s something almost angry about the sentiment here. And finally, the album closes appropriately with A Long Goodbye, which has to be one of the best songs Erasure ever recorded – so much so that I’m not even sure what to say about it it. Except the sirens turn up again in the middle. What is it about Erasure and sirens?
Somehow the original digipak version of Erasure seems like the definitive version – you can find it on Amazon.co.uk here.