Having failed to make much of an impact with debut album Wonderland (1986), Erasure returned thirty years ago with their second full-length release. This time, it was heralded by two enormous hit singles – Sometimes had appeared out of nowhere the preceding autumn, making number 2 in the UK chart, and then It Doesn’t Have to Be came out just before the album and gave them their second top twenty hit.
It is that second hit that opens the album, in brilliantly uptempo form. It’s funny now to think of a time when Erasure weren’t well known, and with that in mind it’s impressive that It Doesn’t Have to Be performed as well as it did on the charts. What on earth is that middle section all about? (According to Wikipedia it’s a reference to Apartheid, which is of course fantastic, but I can’t honestly believe many people realised that at the time.)
The cheesier moments of the debut album still exist, and Hideaway deftly walks the line between that sound and being a fantastic pop song. It feels as though a 2017 re-recording of this song would do it a lot of favours, but it does show a lot of potential on here.
Don’t Dance and to a lesser extent If I Could both tread similar paths, sounding good but still very immature. It’s almost as though Wonderland was just a collection of demos, and this was their first proper album, but even that ignores the fact that Vince Clarke was already a very well-established musician. It’s very strange to say the least.
There’s definitely a bit of an agenda here, as Sexuality demonstrates – it comes across as a fairly innocent pop song charged with a lot of desire. But it’s the pure pop moments that hit their mark the best, as third single and second side opener Victim of Love demonstrates.
Unusually for Erasure, most of the hits are loaded on Side B here – second track Leave Me to Bleed wasn’t a single, but it definitely should have been – it’s probably one of the best songs on the album, and unlike some of the earlier tracks it doesn’t suffer too much from its production.
Sometimes is next, and is obviously exceptional. Oddly, having worked through the rest of the album, it’s easy to find yourself pulling holes in the production of this track too, but on its own this is flawless, and easily one of the best songs that Erasure ever recorded.
Fourth single and title track The Circus is the penultimate song, a curiously dark but happy piece, full of little circus acrobatics. It’s beautiful and haunting, and sadly overlooked as another of the best songs of their early career, although the single version is definitely tighter.
Right at the end comes Spiralling, which is definitely an appropriate closing track, but doesn’t quite have the atmosphere it seems to want, particularly when the circus-inspired Safety in Numbers turns up to close the album. Nice, but I think that’s about as far as you would want to go with this one.
If nothing else, The Circus shows a lot of promise which would be quickly realised on subsequent album The Innocents (1988) and wouldn’t really let up for another couple of decades. But you can also enjoy some great early songs from one of the most important duos in pop, so definitely it shouldn’t be dismissed too quickly.
If you can find copies of the 2011 special edition of The Circus, which should still be available here, that’s the version to get.