Pop! With a simple synth chord, Who Needs Love (Like That) begins. A very minor hit in 1985, Erasure‘s career definitely launched with a slightly uneven start. This collection, released an astonishing quarter of a century ago this week, would enter the charts at number 1 just seven years after that debut single, but it did take them a bit of time to get going.
In the four years since leaving Depeche Mode, Vince Clarke had founded the hugely successful but turbulent Yazoo, and released two albums as part of that project before attempting a multi-vocalist collaboration called The Assembly which faltered after just one (admittedly substantial) hit. One flop collaboration with Paul Quinn left him scraping around for a new vocalist. Andy Bell replied to the advert, performed amazingly, and so Erasure began.
Debut album Wonderland was, bluntly, a bit of a mess, and the second single Heavenly Action, which flopped in late 1985, is pretty representative of that album. It’s definitely catchy, but it’s far from their best. Oh l’Amour, on the other hand, is one of the best tracks that Erasure ever recorded, and it really is a shame that it charted so low, peaking at number 85 in early 1986.
Fortunately, rather than splitting up immediately, Erasure went back to the drawing board, and reappeared in late 1986 with the astonishing Sometimes, peaking at number 2. The subsequent album The Circus yielded a further three huge hits, It Doesn’t Have to Be, Victim of Love, and finally my favourite, title track The Circus. Erasure‘s legacy was sealed.
By the time The Innocents was released in 1988, they were really at the top of their game, and lead single Ship of Fools, while perhaps not as catchy a lead single as Sometimes, is a beautiful, melancholic, piece of synthpop music. The uptempo follow-up Chains of Love, after some initial signs of potentially being very cheesy, grows into another brilliant song. But I suspect what you remember from this album is A Little Respect, the biggest single from this album, released in September 1988.
I could probably live without the snappy Christmas hit Stop!, but it appears to have become a live favourite in recent years, so I might be alone in that regard. Then we’re on to the 1989 album Wild! (also spelt with an exclamation mark), which launched with the single Drama! (there’s another one) in September 1989.
By 1989, Erasure were pretty much guaranteed a top twenty hit – actually, they had an unbroken run between 1986 and 1997, but more impressive was their string of five consecutive number one albums, of which Wild! was the second. To say that the public loved them would be an understatement, as even their slower tracks such as You Surround Me, a beautiful piece released as their Christmas hit for 1989, still managed a very respectable number 15 at a traditionally very competitive time of year.
Now in the 1990s, the hits continue to fly, with Blue Savannah and Star, before the deeply analogue and beautiful Chorus album opens with its brilliant title track, a number 3 hit in mid-1991. Then, of course, comes Love to Hate You, with its injected crowed noises and middle section borrowed from I Will Survive. Pure pop perfection.
Seasons continue to pass, with the deliciously autumnal Am I Right?, followed by the bubbly spring hit Breath of Life, before the unexpected summer 1992 hit Take a Chance on Me, from the Abba-esque EP, which held onto the number 1 spot for five weeks. This was the most popular of the four Abba covers that made up the EP, and much as I like the others, the decision on their next singles compilation Hits! The Very Best of Erasure (2003) to include no fewer than three of the tracks was clearly misguided.
On the US edition of the album, that’s your lot, but the rest of the world fares better, with the brilliantly punchy Hamburg mix of debut hit Who Needs Love (Like That). This version finally took the song to its rightful place in the top ten, and bookends the album perfectly.
So there’s really no doubt about it – after a slightly uncertain start, Pop! The First 20 Hits builds into a fantastic collection, compiling the first seven years of Erasure‘s career. While they did have some very worthy hits over the next seven years, they slowed down and their consistency finally started to falter. But that’s another story, for another time.