Synth-pop duo Erasure have always been about keeping the party going. While contemporaries Depeche Mode and the Pet Shop Boys grew restless over the years and worked tirelessly to expand their respective sounds, Andy Bell and Vince Clarke didn’t let those kinds of things bother them. Sure, there have been exploratory moments now and then, such as the sprawling self-titled album from 1995 and the lovelorn Nightbird, an album released in the shadow of Andy Bell publicly acknowledging his HIV infection. But by and large, the sun has been out for most of Erasure’s career. People listen to their music because it’s fun and catchy, trusting that Bell and Clarke are always playing to their strengths. And since anyone who is willing to purchase an Andy Bell solo album is probably already an Erasure fan, it’s safe to assume that the same virtues apply there as well.
Andy Bell first struck out on his own in 2005 with an album called Electric Blue (and no, it didn’t have the one song you’re thinking of). Sonically and lyrically, the differences between the album and business-as-usual Erasure were few and far between. After all, you don’t front a big name act for at least 20 years without having a few traits rub off on you when you decide to go solo. So it probably comes as a shock to almost no one that Non Stop, Bell’s latest release, doesn’t try to swim upstream. He is simply going with the flow with all the dance floor fervor he has, giving everyone within earshot some beats for nodding and melodies for humming. At the same time, though, there is the slightest hint of a dark undercurrent coursing though Non Stop, causing one to wonder if someone soured the party for Andy.
This is underscored by the final song, a forgive-and-forget anthem called “Honey If You Love Him (That’s All That Matters)” that starts its romp like “Funky Town” with the all lights out. From there the nocturnal mood thickens as Jane’s Addiction’s Perry Farrell joins Bell on the chorus, occasionally punctuated with the line “I’ve got to confess / Your ex was a hot mess”. What this has to do with the song’s drama, I don’t know. Nonetheless, Bell ends his sophomore solo effort with probably one of the most sinister sounds ever associated with him.
In fact, most songs on the album find the singer relying less and less on his milky falsetto and instead settling on filtering his vocals, which is forgivable considering that this is electro-pop, after all, and that Bell is already a fine vocalist. Each song hovers around the three-minute mark and dynamic variation is kept to a minimum. A majority of the songs rely on repeated choruses to fill them out (often the title of the song sung over and over), but each song lingers with a promise that no deeper penetration is necessary to enjoy it, thereby boosting their chances of being your soundtrack to half-priced Long Island nights at the dance club. The single “Call on Me” is exactly the kind of relentlessly catchy track that can move the hips of even the frostiest techno skeptics.
Despite any difference in vocal approach or overall aura, this still remains an Andy Bell album through and through. And since Bell represents 50% of Erasure, most fans will have their minds made up about this album before reading a single word of a review. Still, this man is on a mission. And you can’t help but admire a man whose only mission is to make you groove to his ode to a “Debbie Harry Drag Queen”.