Erasure – Rock Me Gently

As far as I’m concerned, there’s little argument about which Erasure album is best – definitely one of the main candidates would be 1995’s enormous eponymous Erasure, which we listened to previously a while back.

After two fairly minor hit singles, and a relatively unsuccessful album (it only peaked at number 14, whereas the previous five had all hit the top spot, although releasing a studio album in November in those days generally wasn’t great for chart positions), the decision was made not to release any more singles in the UK, but the Czech Republic and Germany got an extra one, the brilliant Rock Me Gently.

It’s one of the first intentionally non-charting singles I know of, as the Czech version was widely available on import in the UK, and it might be my favourite single ever. First, you get the single version, a subtle but beefed up reworking of the original, cut down from ten to four minutes without losing too much of the atmosphere of the album version.

It’s a curious choice of single, and it was never going to be a huge hit anyway, so why should it have conventional remixes? First up is A Combination of Special Events, which takes the soft organ sounds which we would later learn belong to the original demo version, and spreads them out over ten minutes, mixing in some more exploratory elements for the long middle section with Diamanda Galás.

Next comes a remix from Phil Kelsey, a regular guest on Erasure‘s 12″ singles, which takes the track into darker, almost deep house territory. There isn’t a lot of vocal here, but it still doesn’t feel too removed from the original, particularly the long middle section.

Possibly the best Erasure remix ever follows, the Bamboo version, reworked into a curious drum and bass-inspired piece by George Holt. By the standards of this era, it’s short, clocking in at just seven and a half minutes, but it’s quite unique and extremely good.

Having lost a good chunk of the original version on the cutting room floor when the single version was put together, it’s nice to see it recovered for the Extended version, which pretty much just takes the album version and adds the drums from the single. Leaving it every bit as good as the original, just a bit more bangy.

The near-instrumental b-side Chertsey Endlos brings the Czech CD to a close. I remember being a bit perplexed by it at the time, but actually it wraps this single up rather nicely. It may not be quite as essential as its predecessors, but neither does it diminish their power.

For the particularly adventurous, the German CD adds two more tracks. Having worked again through the single version and the b-side, you also get a live acoustic take of album track Sono Luminus, a pleasant interpretation of the song which is neither essential listening nor entirely forgettable. Then finally, the Out of the Moon remix of the title track by George Holt and Thomas Fehlmann (the latter occasionally of The Orb). This is a pleasant dub version built generally around the “mood” of the original song and with some of the elements of the Bamboo mix we heard earlier.

But while the German CD may not be entirely essential, the Czech one definitely is – as a companion to the original album it’s inescapably brilliant, and highly recommended.

Neither of the Rock Me Gently singles are still in print, and they never seem to have quite made it to the download universe either. But I’d heartily recommend tracking one or the other down. Seek and ye shall find.

Erasure – Erasure

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 GálasAngel 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 here.

John Peel’s Record Collection

Browsing through someone else’s record collection is always very rewarding. You learn so much about the owner!

Although I’m sure none of us really needed to learn much about John Peel‘s beautifully eclectic tastes. If there’s anyone who didn’t worship him as a living God when he was around, then I’d be fascinated to know why. And if there’s a music fan out there who doesn’t know where they were then they found out he’d sadly died, then I’d be very surprised.

If you are the one person on the planet who wasn’t aware, then he was probably the finest DJ in British radio history. After some time in the world of piracy in the mid 1960s, he joined fledgeling BBC pop station Radio 1 when it started in 1967 and stayed there right up until his death in 2004. He was responsible for starting the careers of so many big name bands that it’s not even worth considering listing them, and his Peel Sessions remain a household name worldwide.

And this year, 45 years after he joined Radio 1, his estate have been working on a wonderful project to digitise his record collection, and they finally reach the end of the alphabet this week. Starting initially with the first hundred records from each letter, the archive of a few thousand records is quite compelling. Check it out here.

I’m sure I’ve missed plenty, but here are a few of the things which have caught my eye in his collection on my quick browse. Obviously I’m a lot less open minded than he is, but then neither was I going to list all 2,600 entries here! I’ve copied their links where appropriate, but I’d strongly recommend that you go and browse them for yourself!

In particular, the brilliantly bizarre industrial Slovenes Laibach get a full interview in the L is for Laibach feature here, which is well worth watching.