Any new album from Erasure is a good thing, but Clarke and Bell's newest offering will leave you feeling their hearts weren't really in this one.
Let's get this out of the way now: Every album isn't going to be The Innocents or Nightbird, but any new album from Erasure is a good thing to be sure. Where their '80s synthpop contemporaries like Depeche Mode and New Order have waned in recent years in both stature and quality of output (Exciter or Waiting for the Sirens' Call, anyone?), Erasure and Pet Shop Boys are the only two from that old guard that continue to consistently deliver on all counts.
With ten songs clocking in at less than 40 minutes, Light at the End of the World is brief but punchy. And you quickly realize that Vince Clarke and Andy Bell have restored the electronic musings they abandoned on last year's acoustic reimaging of Erasure deep album cuts on Union Street. There is something timeless about Erasure's sound that provides a certain comfort if you musically came of age listening to them.
Opening with its two strongest tracks, "Sunday Girl" and "I Could Fall in Love with You", the album is as reliable and vintage as you can hope for. "Sunday Girl" glides you across the dance floor in a way that somehow combines the best moments of Nightbird with the innocent playfulness of Wonderland. First single "I Could Fall in Love with You" is a showcase for Clarke's synthesizer and Bell's sincere emotion. "There are times when I could fall in love with you / There are times when I would scream till I was blue."
"Darlene" and "Glass Angel" are two surprises buried after a middle that tends to musically blend together. The cadence of Bell's delivery on "Darlene" is what makes the whole song -- sort of a clipped, ONE-two approach that might be a bit too sing-songy if coming from someone else. At just over five minutes, "Glass Angel" is one of the longest non-remix tracks Erasure has ever recorded outside of the "Erasure" album twelve years ago. It has the feel of a Nightbird cast-off -- not quite as full sounding musically and slightly more trite lyrically -- but a solid entry here.
A song like "Sucker for Love" is a great example of how the best Erasure songs grow on you with repeated listenings. The repetition of the shrill synth line was an immediate turn-off for me, but over time it becomes fundamental to the song and ups the dance floor ante. Lyrically, it would be right at home on Bell's excellent Electric Blue from 2005.
The remainder of the disc suffers from a sameness that squanders the momentum of the early wins, undermines the quality of the late-disc heroics, and is unable to overcome their shortcomings in the same way "Sucker for Love" does. This is a shame, because I wanted to like Light at the End of the World -- I wanted to be surprised. But instead I was a little let down, left with the feeling that Clarke and Bell's hearts just weren't in this one.