I think it’s fair to say that Erasure were having a bit of an identity crisis fifteen years ago. Their “guitar” album Loveboat had been an abject failure, and pop generally seemed to be in a bit of a decline. Andy Bell had always threatened to do a cover versions album, which might have made a degree of sense and certainly couldn’t have been any worse than the solo efforts he did release. When it did appear, Vince Clarke had decided to take part as well, and the whole thing ended up smelling more than a little of lousy cash-in.
Other People’s Songs opens with Peter Gabriel‘s Solsbury Hill, a respectable opening track and lead single which adds little to the original other than some cheesy instrumentation and flamboyant vocals. It’s good, but it’s not great.
The strength here is, of course, in the songs themselves. Everybody’s Got to Learn Sometime is a great song – one of the best on here, actually – and of course Erasure were, at this stage, still more than competent enough to make a great track out of a catchy song. Especially when the instrumentation didn’t get too cheesy, as it had a little on the first track. The only slight disappointment is that this doesn’t remotely echo Baby D‘s brilliantly manic version of this song from just a few years earlier, although some of the vocal effects do go some way towards making up for that.
There are always the songs that don’t work quite as well – Make Me Smile (Come Up and See Me) remains a great and catchy song, but it’s hardly an Erasure song, and frankly it made a pretty lousy second single.
And then there are the ones that fail completely – what on earth is Everyday supposed to be? If you want to be really kind to it, maybe it’s a fun reminder of the early days of Yazoo and Erasure, with a fun monophonic synth line and soulful vocals. If you don’t, it’s just plain drivel.
Fortunately, most of the tracks here are mercifully short, and as the equally dreadful When Will I See You Again and the marginally better Walking in the Rain pass you by, you might find yourself starting to lose the will to live.
What you can say here is that there’s always a good song somewhere nearby, and this time it’s the adorable True Love Ways. As with earlier songs, part of the reason it works so well is that the synths are toned down a little here, and this turns out to actually be up to the standard that you might expect from Erasure.
But for every up, there’s always a big down, and Ebb Tide returns us to their earlier form. And again, some of the songs have just been done better by others – Can’t Help Falling in Love is passable, but it’s hardly UB40, and You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’ was done much better by The Human League.
Of course, Erasure had done plenty of cover versions before, most notably of Abba, and some of them had been very good indeed, and so there was inevitably going to be a moment of absolute greatness on here, but Goodnight is still something of a surprise – it’s so good, in fact, that it overshadows pretty much everything else that Erasure released between 2000 and 2011.
Then they go and spoil it all with Video Killed the Radio Star, which is so objectively bad that I won’t say any more than that.
Ultimately, it has to be said – Other People’s Songs is largely awful. It’s actually bad enough that it’s difficult to fathom how nobody noticed while it was being recorded. Sure, there’s no shortage of great, catchy songs, but most of them would have been better left in their original form, without the awful 8-bit synth sounds that Vince Clarke seemed to be so keen on during this period. On the whole, this one is best avoided.
If that inspired you to track this album down, you can find it here and at all major retailers.