Erasure to the rescue once more.
Stuck in lockdown, barricaded in our homes, fearful of contact with strangers, every expedition to the grocery or drug store an exercise in fear and caution, mask politics emerging as the touchstone for a world already gone to hell in a handbasket in so many ways. It’s been a rough six months. And with surges re-surging, lockdowns rising and falling like the swing of a pendulum, and now election season descending upon the US (with the world looking grimly on), don’t we, at last, deserve a break?
Cue Erasure’s new album: The Neon. Music may not by itself cure all these ills, but the virtue of superb electropop is that it helps make them seem a bit less insurmountable. When have Erasure not been around to help us through the dark times? With hundreds of songs and 18 studio albums spanning a 35-year career, Erasure are like a sort of fairy godmother of electronic pop, always emerging during the dark moments of our lives to brighten things up with cheery beats and hopeful energy.
There is a steady constancy to their work, a faith in the sustaining strength of electronic pop music to bridge the ebbs and flows of more than three decades’ worth of change. It’s no exaggeration to say that the past 50 years have seen some of the greatest turbulence in human history. Most of the technologies a band like Erasure uses today to produce and promote their music were not even dreamt of when they first started making tunes. So when a group can navigate these shifts – social and technological alike – and pop out a new album as vibrant as any from the past three and a half decades, it means something special. Despite all his other projects and records, keyboardist Vince Clarke is never bereft of new ideas, still able to ensnare listeners in a web of irresistible synth magic. Singer Andy Bell, meanwhile, can dominate stage and screen alike with his irrepressible presence, hip replacements be damned.
The knowledge this dynamic duo are still hitting the studio for us means something, at times like this above all. Sometimes our creative idols leave us wanting, gaping in confusion rather than awe. A treasured death-metal band goes acoustic; a favorite goth outfit turns ‘dark country’; millionaire pop stars take to their bathtubs on Instagram or call for general strikes and revolution. But through it all, Erasure remain our constants, ready to emerge in a halo-like spotlight over our shoulder and say, “What odds? Let’s dance!”
That is not to say they lack innovation. Both Clarke and Bell are creative as heck, not just in Erasure but in their other projects spanning the years as well (Clarke: Depeche Mode, Yazoo, soundscapes and soundtracks, remixes, collaborations and more; Bell: solo projects, stage performances, theatre, soundtracks, and more). But there is a virtue to Erasure’s constancy. It’s because neither member has anything to prove – they’ve proven it, over and over again – that Erasure present as a stolid and reliable fixture of the airwaves and the dancefloors, not to mention the private hearts of listeners around the world.
“I hear the beat bop through my brain” begins the new album’s first single “Hey Now (Think I Got a Feeling)”. The familiar warm shower of buoyant electronic beats evokes all the power of those dancefloors currently denied us (check out the video). “Nerves of Steel” slides in subtly, low throbbing electronic rhythms wrapping the listener in an embrace as Bell sings comfort and reassurance: “Are you gonna make your way back here? Who rattled your cage?” The fairy electro-godmother sings soothingly, reminding us we haven’t been abandoned. There’s a video for this track too, which director Brad Hammer noted was pieced together “quarantine style, but all the queens turned it!” “Fallen Angel” is likewise reassuring, rhythmically as well as lyrically, with Bell gently urging us on to a warm bed of Clark’s haunting synth work: “I had to change my ways…Fly like a fallen angel…I tried all of the things that give me love…”
There’s a particularly queer comfort to Erasure’s lyrics, underscoring the individual’s need for (and capacity to) change, to hold themselves to account and take charge of rising above their barriers, while drawing solace in the knowledge of a community waiting to support us when we take the initiative. “There is no man that is an island…Climb down off of your horse, your kingdom to survey…” sings Bell in “Fallen Angel”.
“No Point in Tripping” returns us to the dancefloor, with piercing beats clapping off the echoing synth rhythms in the background. “Shot a Satellite” follows a similar course, Bell perpetually kicking off with a voice every bit as robust, aspirational, and reassuring as when they first hit the studio over three decades ago. “Tower of Love” is a more emotional anthem, opening with a tremulous piano backed by subtle synth harmonies. “New Horizons” is another slow track, also backed by piano, and showcasing Bell’s emotional balladry: “We will live to love again.” “Diamond Lies” and “Careful What I Try to Do” return to electronic form with a quirky, buoyant boppiness. The album concludes with perhaps the most beautifully felt track of the album: “Kid You’re Not Alone”, which evokes the best of 1980s redemptive electronic ballads, injecting forgiveness, hope, and optimism all in one warm, slow-beat embrace.
“We’ll come around and find our way through darkness, guided by the stars,” sings Bell. Yes, we will, thanks to Erasure — those most sparkling stars of all.