13 May 2010


Purveyors of shiny pop gems to the masses, Erasure was formed by Vince Clarke in 1985. Fresh from Yazoo and a couple of collaborations with Feargal Sharkey (under the name The Assembly) and Paul Quinn, Erasure drew on the best of Vince's early work. It built upon the cheerful bleepings of early Depeche Mode, adding a little more depth to the rather strange lyrics of songs like New Life and Dreaming Of Me, and exchanging Alison Moyet's 'rootsy blues' vocals with the choir-boy falsetto of Andy Bell. That's a different Andy Bell to the one from Ride - Erasure's new vocalist was an ex-butcher and glittery gay diva in the making. Since its humble beginnings, Erasure has produced two decade's worth of shiny disco beeps and managed five number one albums and twenty-five top 20 singles, fusing Andy's thoughtful lyrics with Vince's ever-evolving synths.

Humble beginnings, yes: Vince, seeking a further outlet for his musical success with Depeche Mode and Yazoo, advertised for a singer. It had worked with Yazoo (Yaz, in America.), enticing fellow Basildonian to work closely with Vince to produce two knock-out synth albums and four hit singles. Forty candidates later, Andy Bell made the grade and in September of 1985 the first single Who Needs Love Like That was released. It barely charted, and the follow up single, Heavenly Action was doomed to a similar fate. Even 1986's 'Oh l'Amour' made little impression on the UK charts.

Releasing Wonderland, the first album, Erasure took the opportunity to tour, taking the synths on an extended tour of sparsely-populated back rooms and university student union bars. It was during this phase, working hard to drum up support, that Erasure's single Sometimes, taken from the second album The Circus, slipped into the UK charts at number two. The third album, The Innocents, swooped in at number one on the British album chart, as did its follow up, Wild!, both albums producing a range of hit singles but never quite managing to achieve the elusive number one spot. Chorus followed in 1991: Erasure were on a roll.

Famed for a certain camp charm, it was this relentless, in-your-face homosexuality that led to b-sides like No GDM, songs like Pistol and Sexuality, and the eventual 1992 release of ABBA-esque. Four ABBA covers, complete with shimmering front-cover and a range of dreadful remixes, pushed Erasure to number one for the first time ever. They followed up with a greatest hits album, and have since kept up a warm, analogue sound. I Say I Say I Say marked Erasure's last real chart success, producing the singles Always, Run To The Sun and I Love Saturday. Though Erasure have in no way been unsuccessful since, albums such as the eponymous Erasure (a masterpiece of entirely uncommercial ambient twiddlings), Cowboy and the cover versions of Other People's Songs have been moderately but hardly staggeringly successful. The second greatest hits album can often mark the beginning of the end, though Erasure rallied round with the 2005's Nightbird and 2007's Light At The End Of The World.

The eighties were notable for bands like Erasure, of course. Bronski Beat, The Communards, Pet Shop Boys and Soft Cell all embodied the two-blokes-with-a-synth feel of the era, and it was all the better if one of them was gay. In Thatcher's Britain, homosexuality was embroiled in a mess of 'family values' propaganda and Clause 28 villification campaigns. Andy Bell, openly gay and camper than a row of fairy-lit pink tents, joined a significant group of talented, popular and openly-gay pop frontmen, bringing the very idea that perhaps it's not too bad to be gay to an ungrateful quantity of conservative homophobes.

Erasure show no signs of splitting up, though both Vince and Andy are free to pursue their own side-projects. Andy Bell intends to release a solo album in the near future, though it's been on the cards for years, and Vince Clarkehas recently teamed up with Martyn Ware (of Heaven 17 and early Human League fame) to produce ambient soundscapes, including a piece intended for the National Centre For Popular Music's Soundscapes 3D auditorium, utilising cutting edge Lake Huron audio processing hardware. Clarke And Ware are a little less pop than Erasure, producing cutting-edge synth with an emphasis on technical wizardry; Pretentious and Spectrum Pursuit Vehicle are vocal-free ambient epics, with an unmistakeable Vince Clark spin.

Erasure: Maybe not as active as The Pet Shop Boys, but just as much fun...

Album Discography:
Wonderland (1986)
The Circus (1987)
The Two Ring Circus (1987)
The Innocents (1988)
Wild! (1989)
Chorus (1991)
Pop! The First 20 Hits (1992)
I Say I Say I Say (1994)
Erasure (1995)
Cowboy (1997)
Loveboat (2000)
Other People's Songs (2003)
Hits! The Very Best Of Erasure (2003)
Nightbird (2005)
Light At The End Of The World (2007)

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