Erasure – Other People’s Songs

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.

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Albums chart of the year 2017

It’s been a great year for reissues, so it’s no surprise to see a few on the 2017 top twenty. Here’s the full list:

  1. Depeche Mode – Spirit
  2. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3 [number 21 in 2016]
  3. Saint Etienne – Home Counties
  4. David Bowie – Legacy [number 27 in 2016]
  5. Kraftwerk – 3-D Der Katalog
  6. Pet Shop Boys – Release [released in 2002]
  7. Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
  8. Erasure – World Be Gone
  9. The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group [number 37 in 2016]
  10. Pet Shop Boys – Nightlife [released in 1999, number 89 in 2004, number 177 in 2005, number 83 in 2006]
  11. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon [released in 1973, number 34 in 2014, number 20 in 2015, number 42 in 2016]
  12. Pet Shop Boys – Fundamental [released in 2005, number 5 in 2006]
  13. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark – The Punishment of Luxury
  14. New Order – Lost Sirens [released in 2013]
  15. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène Trilogy [number 40 in 2016]
  16. Pet Shop Boys – Yes [released in 2009, number 172 in 2015, number 171 in 2016]
  17. Dusty Springfield – Reputation [released in 1990, number 35 in 2016]
  18. C Duncan – The Midnight Sun [number 12 in 2016]
  19. Gorillaz – Humanz
  20. Pet Shop Boys – Elysium [number 2 in 2012, number 14 in 2013, number 179 in 2014, number 120 in 2016]

Retro chart for stowaways – 29 November 2014

For the first time ever, here’s a retro chart from the lifespan of this blog, never published before. Here are the albums from just three years ago this week:

  1. Röyksopp – The Inevitable End
  2. Erasure – The Violet Flame
  3. David Bowie – Nothing Has Changed
  4. Sparks – In Outer Space
  5. Goldfrapp – Tales of Us
  6. David Bowie – Reality
  7. New Order – Waiting for the Sirens’ Call
  8. Röyksopp & Robyn – Do It Again
  9. William Orbit – Strange Cargo 5
  10. The Human League – Dare

 

The Human League – The Golden Hour of the Future

OK, ready, let’s do it. Celebrating the fifteenth anniversary of its release this week and also approximately the fortieth anniversary of its recording is the compilation of early recordings by The Human LeagueThe Golden Hour of the Future.

It opens with the brilliant single-that-never-was, Dance Like a Star, which sounds exactly as it should – The Human League Mk 1, as they are popularly called, the early lineup, featuring Martyn Ware and Ian Craig Marsh alongside vocalist Phil Oakey, always seemed to be making eccentric pop which was a little rough around the edges. This is exactly that – and it might not quite be release quality, but you can still hear the sheer brilliance that’s still to come.

This compilation was curated by über-fan Richard X when he was pretty much at the height of his fame, and pulls together twenty tracks altogether, a mixture of early material by The Human League, their predecessor group The Future, and one solo track from Phil Oakey.

The second track is from The Future, entitled Looking for the Black Haired Girls, and is a fun experimental semi-instrumental track, and that is then followed by the pleasantly melodic and beatsy 4JG from The Human League. It ends, slightly unpredictably, with a child singing Baa Baa Black Sheep.

Most of the earlier tracks are from The Future though, often very experimental, slightly noisy pieces, hinting perhaps at vocalist Adi Newton‘s later industrial work with Clock DVABlack Clocks is pleasant, but definitely more odd than anything, while Cairo takes a lot of inspiration from the work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and sounds every bit as fantastic.

As The Human League showed us long ago on those first two albums, they had always been fascinated with advertising, and so Dominion Advertisement should come as little surprise. It serves as a brief interlude before Dada Dada Duchamp Vortex, a very pleasant drifting piece which along for nearly six minutes before passing over to Daz.

You might find yourself drifting with the music, as Future Religion mixes into Disco Disaster. There’s more than enough variety here to satisfy a full career compilation, but there’s also a huge amount of material. Even among that, a few tracks really stand out – Interface is brilliant, as is Phil Oakey‘s solo work The Circus of Dr. Lao, and then there’s a fun instrumental cover of Reach Out (I’ll Be There) in case things need livening up.

There are some more experimental moments with New Pink FloydOnce Upon a Time in the WestOverkill Disaster Crash, and Year of the Jet Packs, a series which are all good, but only the last one really shines. Pulse Lovers is great too, and then we’re pretty much at the end already, with the short King of Kings, and then, after a lot of odd groaning and screaming, the extremely long Last Man on Earth.

Of course, the thing with Last Man on Earth is that it does, to some extent, help explain what on earth Phil Oakey was going on about on Circus of DeathThe Human League‘s first b-side, released just a year or so after most of these demos would have been recorded. This is definitely history in the making.

What’s surprising is just how good this is as an album. I’ve always loved The Human League Mk 1, but their sound on their albums is always a little raw and uncontrolled, and I suppose I expected their early demos to be even more manic. But they’re not particularly, and I’m very glad this compilation appeared to help add more context to those early years.

The CD has fallen out of print again, but you can still find The Golden Hour of the Future through your favourite digital retailers.

Begin again – revisiting the beginner’s guides

In all, between 2014 and 2015, this blog posted 66 beginner’s guides. The idea was to present six things:

  • Key moments – why you might have heard of these people before
  • Where to start – my thoughts on which of their albums to buy or listen to first
  • What to buy – the three items you should track down next
  • Don’t bother with – an item that is probably best avoided, or definitely should wait until you graduate to the level of completist
  • Hidden treasure – one song that’s hidden away somewhere and should be located at all costs
  • For stowaways – some collected highlights from their posts on this blog

They were very popular – in fact, for a long time, Depeche Mode‘s was the most popular post on this blog, and while that does suggest to me that it reached the wrong audience slightly, it’s still a good thing. They were also divisive – inevitably, people disagreed with a lot of what I wrote and told me so in angry or passive-aggressive ways. This is the internet, after all.

So what’s happened since they were written? Here are some highlights:

  • Air released a vinyl-only box set called Music for Museum, which you can probably skip for now
  • Conjure One released Holoscenic, which is nearly as good as their debut album, so is probably worth tracking down
  • Crystal Castles came back with a new lineup – I haven’t heard it yet, but the feedback seemed positive
  • Depeche Mode returned with the fantastic Spirit. You wouldn’t want to start with it, but it should be high on the list
  • Erasure keep churning albums out every couple of years, and finally seem to have returned to the consistent quality of the late 1980s and early 1990s
  • Goldfrapp have a new album, but it’s not quite as good as the previous one
  • The Human League have a new best of to consider, A Very British Synthesizer Group
  • Hot Chip keep throwing out great albums every time you turn your back for a moment
  • Jean Michel Jarre has managed three fantastic new albums: the two Electronica volumes and Oxygène 3
  • Kraftwerk now have a diverting live collection to consider
  • New Order now have the fantastic Music Complete to add to the list, which wouldn’t be a bad thing to add to the “what to buy” list either
  • Pet Shop Boys brought us the lovely Super
  • Röyksopp reappeared with two albums, Do It Again and The Inevitable End, before taking what looked at the time like an early retirement
  • Saint Etienne reissued their reissue series and just came back with Home Counties

You can find the index to all the beginner’s guides here.

Chart for stowaways – 27 May 2017

Here’s the latest album chart:

  1. Depeche Mode – Spirit
  2. Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  3. Goldfrapp – Silver Eye
  4. New Order – Lost Sirens
  5. New Order – Music Complete
  6. Gorillaz – Humanz
  7. Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  8. The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group
  9. Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Lovely Creatures – The Best Of
  10. Pink Floyd – The Dark Side of the Moon