I toyed with reviewing this a few weeks ago in time for the 25th anniversary of its release as a single, but then I thought as a Christmas EP it might be more appropriate to do it on the run-up to the festive season instead. But it is now a quarter of a century since Erasure‘s Christmas Crackers International EP graced the charts, and I think that is cause for something of a celebration.
The lead track Stop! is either rubbish, annoying, catchy, or very very good indeed, and I think that largely depends on how many times you’ve listened to it recently. It’s got some ridiculous lyrics (“get hung upon a hook”?) and some very silly singing in the vein that only Andy Bell seems to be able to manage. But it’s also a great pop song, and it always leaves me feeling very confused indeed. Do I like it or not? I’ve still no idea.
The rest of the EP is easier to fathom. The Hardest Part is traditional Erasure, at least from that period: a slightly mournful vocal over an entirely cheesy backing track. That’s a good thing, by the way. If this had been on the tail end of preceding album The Innocents it might have been better than some of the things that were there (see this review).
Knocking on Your Door is rather more manic, perhaps because they didn’t seem to have a lot of playing time to spare on this 7″ EP, or perhaps it was just meant to be a mini-collection of daft pop songs. I think it’s probably better than Stop! but the crazy banging beats don’t really leave you much time to “stop” and try to actually enjoy the song.
Every so often Erasure pull something off which makes you really sit up and listen, and She Won’t Be Home is a perfect example of this. Anyone above the age of 18 who’s ever been a bit unsure of the point of Christmas will agree with the sentiment of the song and find it an incredibly beautiful song. It’s got jingle bells and festive horns and everything, and yet it’s incredibly sad as well.
And that’s it for the original EP – four tracks in just thirteen minutes. But this was 1989, and by then singles (I’m talking in the UK chart sense – I’m aware that EPs and singles aren’t the same thing) were traditionally released in a raft of different formats.
The key ones are the two 12″ releases, and although they seem to have forgotten to give the remixes actual names to help you differentiate them, this one gives you the same EP, but with longer versions of The Hardest Part and Knocking on Your Door. There’s nothing particularly special about either – they’re just traditional eighties extended versions (instrumental first verse; broken down middle section; you know the rest…) but they’re good anyway. The latter even just about reaches the dizzy heights of the four minute mark, although it’s not a lot less manic than its sub-three minute counterpart on the 7″.
The second 12″ then has just three tracks, starting with a longer remix of Stop! which is a bit more experimental in the way that Erasure‘s limited edition 12″ versions were in the late 1980s. True, it’s nothing particularly special, but it is a bit different, which is probably a good thing.
Then there’s another remix of Knocking on Your Door, which is probably also a good thing since the first two disappeared so quickly. As with the Stop! remix it’s a bit different, and a bit more dub-inspired, but it’s essentially the same song (this was the 1980s, remember – epic trance dub mixes by big-name DJs were not the norm back then).
The third and final track, though, is a total surprise – and it’s also my favourite of the lot. The concept is pretty simple really: it’s just a cover of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, but it’s dark, atmospheric, and actually very beautiful indeed, with its deep choir and chilled out backing. It’s a wonderful vocal performance from Andy Bell too. I wonder how many people bought the EP originally and failed to find out about this little gem, tucked away at the end of the limited edition 12″ and ultra-rare 3″ CD. Probably not many.
Crackers International is an odd release, really – you get four non-album tracks which wouldn’t have fit on either the previous album or the next one, but a couple of them probably should have been b-sides anyway. But it’s a nice special Christmas release, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with enjoying it on that level.
The essential version of Crackers International is the nine-track version, as reviewed above, and as found in their third singles box set EBX3, and this also gets you the four singles from the next album Wild! Unfortunately the price is astronomical – see here.