From Moscow to Mars is a definitive set that thoroughly explores three decades of pop magic by the veteran British duo.
Depending on where you live, it may or may not surprise you to learn that the veteran British electro-pop duo Erasure has released 17 albums over a 32-year span. It would be no shock to fans in the UK and other parts of Europe, where Erasure has scored dozens of hits. In America, though, except for a sizable contingent of die-hard fans, they are mostly known for a handful of new wave/pop hits at the tail-end of the ‘80s (“Chains of Love” and “A Little Respect” in particular, along with the Top 20 ballad “Always” in 1994).
Very few pop artists who emerged in the early-to-mid ‘80s have enjoyed such remarkable endurance as Erasure. They've managed to navigate the ever-changing trends and stylistic flashes of the moment while maintaining the same basic formula: melodic synth-pop with Vince Clarke’s electronic virtuosity providing electrifying accompaniments for vocalist Andy Bell’s powerfully soulful voice. That said, each album still has a distinctive vibe. Many of Erasure’s contemporaries have long since faded into the oldies circuit (if they still exist at all), often with vastly different lineups. Not so with Erasure, though, who’ve upheld a rock solid musical partnership. The duo continues to deliver outstanding new studio albums (their latest, World Be Gone, released just a month ago, notched their highest UK chart debut in over two decades), and they tour regularly, selling out shows in Europe and North America. Clearly, the band has managed to carve a unique niche in the vast and often heartless pop universe, and yet despite their many accomplishments, they never quite get the respect or attention they deserve from critics and the mainstream music press.
Perhaps that will change now that their deep and rewarding catalog is being explored on the lavishly produced new box set From Moscow to Mars. It’s an exhaustive collection that spans the duo’s entire career leading up to the new album. Erasure’s music has always held up well, but it’s presented here newly remastered and sounding better than ever. For established Erasure fans, it’s a goldmine, a beautifully designed keepsake that chronicles their remarkable career with care and thoughtfulness. For new fans, you couldn’t ask for a better gateway to explore the duo’s work. There are a few quibbles (aren’t there always with major box sets?), but by and large From Moscow to Mars is a superb set that provides plenty of high-quality content for the price.
The box contains 12 CDs, a DVD, a hardback photobook, a postcard set, and a "space passport". The set follows the space motif (the set’s title comes from a lyric in the track “Star”) and is strikingly designed, elegant, and beautiful -- a worthy addition to any serious music collection. The first three CDs contain all 50 of the duo’s singles, from their 1985 debut, “Who Needs Love Like That”, through “Sacred,” the third and final single from the duo’s stellar 2014 album, The Violet Flame. Early singles like “Sometimes”, “Victim of Love”, and “Oh L’Amour” have lost none of their buoyant charms. Obviously, the duo’s international breakthrough, 1988’s The Innocents, is well-represented by its three classic singles: “Ship of Fools”, “Chains of Love”, and perhaps their signature tune, “A Little Respect”. That gets us through just the first ten tracks. Tight and relentless, with one killer tune after another, the full presentation of Erasure’s 50 singles represents an arresting 30-plus year journey through electropop history.
Some of the highlights along the way include the shimmery “Blue Savannah”, kinetic dance tracks like “Chorus”, “Run to the Sun”, “Don’t Say Your Love Is Killing Me”, and their campy take on the ABBA classic “Take a Chance on Me”. The ballads are present as well, with Andy Bell’s voice being particularly powerful on international hits such as “You Surround Me”, “Am I Right”, “Rock Me Gently”, “In My Arms”, and the stunning “Stay With Me”. These three CDs also allow fans who may have lost track of the duo’s recording career the opportunity to get caught up on some of their outstanding work of the last decade, including the sublime “Breathe” and outstanding cuts like “I Could Fall in Love with You”, “When I Start to (Break it All Down)”, “Fill Us with Fire”, and “Elevation”, all of which stack up well next to Erasure’s better-known older material. Unlike many artists with such a long history, Erasure has not endured a prolonged down period of mediocrity, and the 50 singles here are ample evidence of this.
That’s just the start of the box set, though. The non-single album tracks are not neglected, and are cleverly presented; in fact, Andy Bell and Vince Clarke chose one disc each to compile their personal favorite album tracks, and it's fascinating to hear which songs they picked. Essential non-singles like “Save Me Darling”, the breathtaking ballad “A Long Goodbye”, “Alien”, the should-have-been single “Blues Away”, and the poignant “Weight of the World” (from The Innocents) are among the diverse choices included. These discs are like mix-tapes directly from Clarke and Bell, sequenced non-chronologically to provide a logical flow and unique listening experience.
Elsewhere, two CDs are devoted to covering most of Erasure’s fantastic b-sides (spanning their entire career), many of which are every bit as strong as their formal album tracks. There is a handful missing, but all of the key ones are here. Highlights include the lovely “Dreamlike State”, the melancholy Christmas themed “She Won’t Be Home”, the high-energy “Sweet Sweet Baby”, and particularly strong tracks like “Let it Flow”, “The Soldier’s Return”, “La La La”, “In the Name of the Heart”, and “Ghost”. One could quibble with the decision not to include all of the b-sides, but that would have required another disc, and it’s hard to argue that 12 CDs of audio material—plus a DVD—isn’t sufficient.
Erasure has been a staple of dance clubs the world over since it began. In America, their primary success since their commercial peak in the late ‘80s has been on the dance chart, so it makes sense that the next two CDs are devoted to some of the duo’s finest remixes, including several rare cuts and a few new ones created specifically for this collection. Just a few of the standouts include the “Out of the Blue” mix of “Blue Savannah”, the classic 12” version of “Stop!”, and a re-working of the Chorus-era b-side “Snappy”.
Disc 10 is a compilation of live performances from various tours throughout the band’s career, including lesser-known tracks such as “Joan” and “Tenderest Moments”, alongside hits like “Sometimes” and “A Little Respect”. Disc 11 contains rarities -- mostly demos, but there is also a fascinating previously-unreleased single mix of the Wild! track “2000 Miles” with a different vocal than the album version. Disc 12 is an audio history of the band that’s definitely worth a listen, especially considering the almost non-existent liner notes. Finally, the collection wraps up with a DVD of the band’s acclaimed 1989 tour in support of Wild!, a show filmed in London that previously was only available on VHS.
For the most part From Moscow to Mars delivers the goods and is a superbly-curated set, but there are a couple of tweaks that could have made it even better. Missing are soundtrack tunes like “Magic Moments” and “Looking Glass Sea” (rarities that would have been welcome additions), as well as the duo’s brilliant take on Cole Porter’s “Too Darn Hot” from the landmark 1990 charity compilation, Red Hot + Blue. Licensing issues probably explain their exclusion, but it’s a shame they are missing from such an otherwise comprehensive set. The biggest complaint, though, is the paltry liner notes. Andy Bell and Vince Clarke discuss a handful of topics in a brief interview posted at the end of the underwhelming book of photography, but additional liner notes with commentary on the songs from both of them would have been fascinating to read -- even if they only did the two discs of personal favorites. Given the expense of the set for fans and the amount of care that obviously went into creating such an epic collection, it seems strange that there isn’t more reading material.
Despite these minor gripes, From Moscow to Mars is a definitive set that thoroughly explores three decades of pop magic by a duo that just keeps going their own way no matter what’s happening in the music scene around them. A collection presenting Erasure’s work with such care and attention to detail was long overdue, and now that it’s here, fans should not hesitate to snatch it up.