There is, as Andy Bell so wisely tells us, “something going on, something not quite right.” Because just a couple of years after Vince Clarke left the breathtakingly successful Yazoo, and not long before they were very near the top of the charts with Sometimes, Erasure were to be found right at the bottom with their number 71 hit Wonderland.
Who Needs Love (Like That) is, of course, one of the best songs of their career. Clarke had written it long before the two met, and Bell actually performed it as one of his audition pieces. It also gave them a minor hit, which isn’t something you can say for anything else on here.
Is that because they weren’t very good? Honestly, partly I think the answer is yes. Reunion and Cry So Easy both have nice enough melodies, but they seem naïve and a little empty. The production is probably the thing that’s most obviously lacking – producer Flood has made the best of a bad job, but if you consider for a moment what else was going on in the world of music at the time (the first Pet Shop Boys album and Depeche Mode‘s Black Celebration to name but two), this seems very empty – perhaps even rushed.
There are exceptions, in addition to the opening single – Push Me, Shove Me in particular, which didn’t actually make it onto the earlier US version of the album, is Erasure at their best. Perhaps they just needed slightly tighter editorial controls at the time.
It doesn’t last – Heavenly Action holds a special place in my heart, as I’m sure it does for many people who grew up on Pop! The First 20 Hits, but honestly it isn’t actually very good. What on earth is it supposed to be about?
The first few tracks on Side B aren’t much better either. Say What has a nice swing rhythm, but not a huge amount else – it might at least have been moderately contemporary at the time though. Love is a Loser is nice, but very cheesy indeed. Senseless is better – at least the chorus is fairly catchy, but you do have to wonder exactly what they were throwing away at this point if this is what made it onto the album.
After all that, My Heart… So Blue is something of a surprise. It might not be the best song that Clarke and Bell have ever written, but it’s pretty good, and paves the way well for the exceptional and entirely unexpected Oh L’Amour.
I think the first few times I heard it, it passed me by somehow, but over time I’ve come to see it as what it is – one of Erasure‘s finest moments, and its eventual chart success in 2003 was entirely deserved. For the first time on this album, I have to confess that there’s something truly beautiful here.
So finally, the album comes to an end, with the derogatory Pistol. Another one that was missed off the original US release, you do have to wonder slightly whether they were just making it up as they went along.
Wonderland is, at least, where it all began for Erasure, but it seems fair to view it as being closer to the lower end of the scale than some of their later works. Try to remember these were the same people who had a run of five number one albums starting just two years later, and you might see something in it. One for completists.
Having said all of that, there is a new deluxe edition of this album, which may well bring out the qualities that make it amazing. See here. Also available on vinyl.