Thursday, 29 September 2011

Erasure – The Best Synth-Pop Band Ever?

A shortened version of this post appeared here:

Erasure – The Best Synth-Pop Band Ever?

Erasure – arguably the greatest synth band of all time, are back. But they never actually went away.

It could easily be contended that Vince Clarke has a more illustrious and superior body of work under his belt than The Pet Shop Boys, post-Clarke Depeche Mode or any other electronic supergroup you care to mention. But his band Erasure are rarely given such acclaim and respect as both these bands have now earned.

If electronic bands of the 80s had an agenda to disprove the theory that keyboards weren’t a proper instrument, and electronic music could express emotion, then Erasure are the band who have established this beyond doubt.

From his early work with Depeche Mode (including the small matter of penning I Just Can’t Get Enough), followed by brief stints with Fergal Sharkey in The Assembly, and Alison Moyet in Yazoo (producing the classic Only You) Vince Clarke already had a back catalogue featuring some of the best songs of the 80s.

But it’s his 16 albums and some 40 singles, spanning 25 years partnered with Andy Bell in Erasure where Clarke has produced many of the finest moments of synth-pop of the last three decades.

From the the yearning Sometimes, the bitter A Little Respect and the optimistic explosion Stop, Vince Clarke has shown a masterful understanding of pop music’s power to soundtrack kitchen sink drama, bettered by none.

(Vince Clarke is also a distinguished remixer: brilliantly propelling Happy Mondays’ Wrote For Luck to student dance floors across Britain)

Vince had adopted the role of the mysterious keyboard playing sidekick before Pet Shop Boy Chris Lowe had squeezed his first note from a Bontempi. (Both owe a huge debt to Ron Mael of Sparks for creating this enigmatic persona of course!) But for Clarke it’s not a case of style over substance. He’s been crafting electronic masterpieces, and sensational synth sounds on hit, after hit, after hit, now pushing 40 hit singles, without ever letting up.

He’s purportedly happy to stand in the shadows, but then who wouldn’t when they have a voice and a performer like Andy Bell as a front man?

Vince’s partner in Erasure, Andy Bell, doesn’t fit the mold of cool performer which engenders the respect of the Mojo and Uncut magazines of this world. A truly camp performer and an exuberant stage presence, Bell has already had a double hip replacement due to his leg swinging dance routines. Add to this an announcement that he is HIV positive, Andy has shown himself to be one of pop’s long distance runners. Never playing on his illness for a headline or column inch, Andy Bell has always let his voice do the talking. And what a voice. Euphoric, despairing and spine tingling.

No one else could both lampoon and pay tribute to Abba - scoring remarkably Erasure's first number one in the process. Blame Erasure for another the ABBA revival! ABBA issued the huge ABBA Gold hits album on the back of Erasure’s ABBA-esque covers EP in 1992.

Bell has perhaps, understandably, finally shown signs that he’s struggling with the lack of acclaim his band receive as this tweet suggested last October:

unless you are in a girl band boy band celebrity x factor with tits out there's no tv radio or press what's a boy in love supposed to do?”

Perhaps this played has some part in his decision to appear on schmaltzy UK reality show Popstar To Operastar earlier this year, from which he escaped relatively unscathed.

Erasure have refused to bow to the latest trends in search of a hit – always true to their original sound. No U2 impersonations, as adopted by Depeche Mode. No retro cabaret act tours, with other bands shipwrecked in the 80s. No constantly changing line-up with one original member.

The original lineup, the original sound, the most enduring synth group ever. Despite a steady decline in popularity since the early 90s - they just keep going - testament to their passion, and plain love of the music they are making.

Is it at last time when you can say you like Erasure without a snigger, or being called a queer? Erasure’s new album is produced by prodigy and fan Frankmusic.Scissor Sisters now cite Erasure as a big influence - just listen to A Little Respect again for the obvious similarities.

If the other giants of the UK singles charts in the 80s like Adam Ant and Madness can now bask in unadulterated glory, is it not time that Erasure joined them? Perhaps it’s because they never split up, and so they never came back. They never went away, they just kept doing their thing.

Though rarely troubling the top end of the charts these days, Erasure continue record new material, and perform live. Erasure start the UK leg of a world tour on 12th October, and release new album Tomorrow’s World on October 3rd. I'll see them at the Academy on the 13th.

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