Twenty-six years and 14 albums in, you expect certain things from electro-pop legacy duo Erasure. Vince Clarke’s synths will be expertly layered and full of color. Singer Andy Bell will go heavy on the vibrato, like plenty of elegant British men who’d rather be soul divas. And half the lyrics will be truly inane, a mix of placeholding clichés and tone-deaf language. The winner of Most Cringeworthy Couplet on Tomorrow’s World is this bizarre little number, from “Then I Go Twisting”:
Think I’m going schizo / I bury my head in sand
I live in a disco / You’ve such a machismo hand.
Forget your everyday run-of-the-mill complaints about daft pop lyrics — “Who talks like that?”, or, “Since when is ‘machismo’ an adjective?” Such complaints cannot fathom the depths of meaninglessness in Erasure’s lyrics. I’d call those lines “decadent”, except decadence usually requires some work. Erasure’s lyrics make the Dave Clark Five’s 1965 club banger “Over and Over” (“Everybody there was there!”) sound like an ontological manifesto.
So thank goodness they’re catchy. In that department, Tomorrow’s World is their most consistent batch of songs since 2005’s Nightbird, or maybe even 1997’s Cowboy. Its peaks aren’t as high as those albums’ standouts — there’s no “Don’t Say You Love Me” or “Rain” here — but most of these nine songs have big choruses that sneak into your head, sometimes against your better judgment. At first, lead single “When I Start To (Break It All Down)” seemed as unnecessary as its parentheses, but somehow I still wake up singing the thing.
The third guy responsible for all this catchiness is English Erasure disciple Vincent Frank, aka Frankmusik, a nuevo-disco dude who’s currently getting some club play with his own song, “Do It in the AM”. Frankmusik produced Tomorrow’s World, which is sort of like Jack White producing Loretta Lynn, and it’s difficult to suss out the dividing line between his contributions and Clarke’s. Most likely, Frank pushed the duo’s music to sound more like contemporary disco. With their thick synth stabs and woomph-woomph-woomph-woomph beats, several of these songs nod towards the galloping Euro-stomps that currently clog the charts in both America and the U.K. Since this is Erasure, though, there’s a depth and delicacy to the keyboards that you don’t hear in, say, LMFAO.
Sometimes that depth and delicacy comes with a price. Since Clarke has been making music for so long, he’s exhausted his supply of cool synth settings at least twice, which leads to some unexpectedly naff effects this time out. “I Lose Myself” starts out sounding fiery and ominous, with Bell singing, “I’m not concerned about the bitch I’ve been / They sure must have all deserved it”. It’s fairly galvanizing stuff — until an incongruous smooth jazz “guitar” solo breaks the mood. The funniest effect comes right up front: at the beginning of album opener “Be with You”, Clarke, like many of us, has apparently been seduced by the dulcet tones of the pan flute. It’s like he just returned from an arts and crafts expo. Fortunately, after a few seconds, the 4×4 Euro-disco kicks in, so even if you’re put off by passages of New Age-y noodling, don’t worry: it guettas better.
Highlights include the whistling, stutter-stepping beauty “Fill Us with Fire”, the soul-gospel experiment “You’ve Got to Save Me Right Now”, and especially “A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot”, which has nothing to do with Led Zep or Def Lep but rocks nearly as hard. For once the lyrics, about an ill-fated actress in a car accident, are creepy and evocative, plus they do not bore us and they get to the chorus. Probably thanks to Mr. Frankmusik, Bell’s vocals are autotuned into shrieky pitches of syncopated rage, until he finally sounds like one very angry and heartbroken machine. “Riot” is totally modern and totally Erasure-ish, and it demonstrates that, while these guys might be elder statesmen, they hardly belong in an old folks’ club.