11 October 2011

Erasure: "Tomorrow's World"

I dedicate this review to the biggest Erasure fan in North Carolina, Mia.

I admit that Erasure is one of my favorite acts of all time … this is something that seems peculiar to some of my friends and acquaintances, considering all of the other artists that I rank amongst my favorites. From the very first single, “Who Needs Love Like That?,” I was a fan. And throughout my adolescence the duo of Andy Bell and Vince Clarke was an escape from the cold world around me, comforting me in many ways, sometimes even assuaging the fears away. And though my love for the band has not diminished by the years, I have not found myself escaping from this (to quote their song “A Long Goodbye”) “crazy mixed up world of honey” where “life is just an illusion” via their music. My love for their music and what they have meant to me as a person has never clouded my ability to be critical of their musical output (though live, it is always a good time!). But when I first listened to “Tomorrow’s World” (3 October 2011 in the UK; 11 October 2011 in the USA), something that had not happened in nearly two decades did: I escaped … for two straight hours, playing the album over again and again and again. And I realized, in this crazy world full of 80s revival, Erasure is back to claim back their position as icons.

If you think of the current music scene as a “modern town,” Andy Bell’s crooning in “Then I Go Twisting” seems apropos: “Then I go insane, I’m bored of this modern town, sick of this techno monophonic sound.” With an electro scene content to replicate the monotonous 80s, Erasure is back to show the newbies exactly how it is done with this polyphonic song. Of course the song is really about the insanity of living life in the club scene and all that entails (“Think I’m going schizo, I bury my head in sand. I live in a disco, you’ve such a machismo hand…”). But the words that fans are going to immediately connect with are the opening lines Bell sings in the very first track, “Be With You”: “Call me, any time just call me. Tell me that you want me, feel it everywhere.” But just as the music is the most beat (physically) oriented in years, Bell reveals what is on his mind: “Everything is physical, it really turns me on.”

When their eponymous album was released in late 1995, many listeners and critics were thrown off by the length of the songs; it was almost as if these were extended versions of shorter songs, but that was far from the case. Yet Erasure’s sensibilities to the kinds of sounds and effects were not worlds away from what could have been expected. With “Tomorrow’s World,” Erasure does move worlds away from their generic sound. In some ways they return to the 80s (with the kind of bass lines), but the bigger sounds are fresh and new. And though Vince Clarke has mastered and continues to use the classic pop song structure, the music is layered in a very different ways. The use of ostinatos is very different – sometimes, like in “Fill Us With Fire,” the sounds are sweepingly larger than beeps one might expect, and at other times, like in “A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot,” it is marginalized or even not employed. The music is more bass and drum focused, with very sophisticated but subtle melodious arrangements to Clarke’s credit; this, in turn, places the focus even more directly on Bell’s vocals. On that note, I will argue that “A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot” is one of the songs on this album that Erasure must have been thinking about a dance floor for the first time in years when they wrote it.

From the more tentative singing of earlier songs, like “Oh L’Amour,” to the more confident singing of “Blue Savannah,” to the real demonstration of range, like in songs like “Perchance To Dream” (one of Erasure’s greatest and least known songs), the quality of Andy Bell’s voice has continued to change and improve. Now, Andy Bell is more soulful than ever before, as demonstrated in their latest single, “When I Start To (Break It All Down).” But what has gotten stronger and more apparent than ever before is the symbiotic relationship that Bell and Clarke share as musicians. No other act has music and vocals that work in such tandem unity like Erasure – from how notes between vocals and music are harmonized to how the drama of both voice and music are always mirror images of one another. And this reminds me of classic pop, back in the 40s and 50s, when that careful attention to this kind of detail was in vogue. This conscious attention is most obvious in “What Will I Say When You’re Gone”; even when the beat drops and Bell is pining away (“What’ll I do, what will I say when you’re gone? In this emptiness emotion, will it hurt when you walk out the door?”), the beat may drop out, but the anxiousness generated by the sound effects in the background mirror Bell’s anxiety and dejection.

The job of any great producer is not to compose music (as is too common in the world of pop), but rather to bring out what the vision of the musical act that he/she is working with. Frankmusik proves that he is not only a capable musician, but also an amazing producer. Working along side Frankmusik, Erasure does not fall into the same routine and generic song pattern. For instance, there is no “Always,” “In My Arms,” “Breathe,” “I Could Fall In Love With You” moment on this album. What Erasure is able to capitalize on throughout “Tomorrow’s World” is not just their experience, but also their confidence as musicians. Just take “I Lose Myself”: the music is thriving, relevant, and urgent, as Bell, always tongue-in-cheek, sings, “I’m not concerned about the bitch I’ve been; they sure must’ve all deserved it… Electro soul, it’s only rock ‘n roll, and when it gets down to it, I lose control … I dare not lose my self-control.” The “bitch” line will become as classic as the line in “Sometimes”: “It’s not my sense of emptiness you fill with your desire.” (Just imagine what could be filled!)

The amazing thing about Erasure is that even when they are being serious and heartbroken, they are so much fun to listen and sing along to. Legions of fans around the world understand that this is Erasure’s staying power: Erasure represents good times, happiness, and a comforting voice in the dark. (For those youngsters swept away by the current revival of 80s electro, take a listen to the masters.) Their last album was titled “Light at the End of the World” (2007), and it was the end of a world - an era - where Erasure seemed to have gotten complacent. But every band that has managed to survive over a quarter-of-a-century will have its slumps; the real question is will they regain what made them great? What made them icons? Erasure, with “Tomorrow’s World,” reclaims and justify their position as (synth)pop icons. And I, for one, am happy to once again escape that crazy world outside into the phantasmagorical world of Erasure.

Track Listing:
1. Be with You
2. Fill Us with Fire
3. What Will I Say When You’re Gone?
4. You’ve Got to Save Me Right Now
5. A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot
6. When I Start To (Break It All Down)
7. I Lose Myself
8. Then I Go Twisting
9. Just When I Thought It Was Ending
10. Shot to the Heart, iTunes bonus track

Keep up with Erasure at homepage, MySpace, and Facebook.

Here is a montage video for “When I Start To (Break It All Down)” and the Steve Smart & WestFunk Remix of the song, set to an animated video, both from the erasureinfo YouTube Channel.

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