Erasure may be the longest standing casual collaboration in all of pop music. For 35 years — is that even possible? — the duo has been made up of vocalist Andy Bell and keyboardist Vince Clarke. They hit it big early, with hit singles in their native England like “Sometimes,” before crossing the pond and practically defining synth-pop dance floor music with “A Little Respect,” “Chains of Love” and “Always.” And they have continued to release music — nearly 20 studio albums, amassing sales of more than 25 million worldwide.
But as often as you hear new music from the pair is also about as often as they see each other. “It’s always a real treat to see Andy,” Clarke observes about their biennial reunions. “We never ever get bored of each other.”
Maybe a healthy marriage needs a little space. And a little respect.
They began working on their newest album, The Neon, last summer — long before the pandemic — but the intent of the disc feels curiously appropriate in a time of isolation: a signature electronic joy, as brightly-lit as the gas its named for, but also with pangs of longing. It retains Erasure’s identifiable sound, even if it doesn’t advance much. Erasure doesn’t evolve — it persists.
Bell still has one of the cleanest voices in dance-pop music; the last time I saw him perform live he easily hit the high notes on “A Little Respect” (Elton hasn’t been able to do it on “Bennie and the Jets” for better than a decade). His vocals are clear and happy but also plaintive, though it’s often slumming with impenetrable lyrics like Wore out the mirror, but it can see right through me / I gotta get the look, a refrain on “Hey Now (Think I Got a Feeling),” the album’s lead single. Meh — the beat and electronica are on-point, so we can overlook the words. (The sentiments are more cogent on “Nerves of Steel,” a slower-paced chill “want” song.)
You may get whiplash from the throwback of Clarke’s analog synths on “No Point in Tripping;” you will be forgiven seeing flashes of Eddie Murphy action comedies and teased-out bleached perms. “Shot a Satellite” aims for an edgier version of the same (think early ’90s angst), but the rolling time signature keeps engaging you. The same effort on “Tower of Love” is less successful (it sounds like a failed theme song for a vampire show on The CW.) The torchy closer, “Kid You’re Not Alone” is Bell’s confessional but encouraging message number.
Virtually every track clocks in between three and four minutes, making them perfect radio-play length, but it’s also easy to imagine each one getting a nine-minute remix for when we’re all back in the clubs. Ya know, that’s something I’m actually looking forward to — the clubs and the remixes. Wouldn’t be the same without Erasure.
— Arnold Wayne Jones