This year sees Erasure celebrate their 30th anniversary with, among other things, a recent acoustic show and an intriguing huge boxset, From Moscow To Mars, which comes out today, 9 December. There is a lot to love to within the box and I recently reviewed it for XS Noize as you can read here: http://www.xsnoize.com/box-set-review-erasure-from-moscow-to-mars/ . Rather than review it here too, I thought I'd approach Erasure's 30th birthday from a different angle. I've been a fan for at least 25 of those 30 years and Erasure are one of the bands that have remained a constant in my life, so I thought I'd celebrate the band's anniversary with my own take on the Erasure 30 theme. Here are my 30 reasons why you should you love Erasure.
1 to 5: Some personal highlights:
1. The Chorus album
Let's start with the band's very best work - 1991's Chorus. In an era when Erasure specialised in releasing incredible hit singles, every song on Chorus was a potential top 10 track. From the title track to the gorgeous closing track Home, Chorus is Erasure at their finest. Bonus points too to Vince for his stunning analogue synth work throughout. The bleeps and beeps that run through the album were a particular thrill at the time and they still sound stunning now. If you don't have this album, then you're really letting yourself down. Go and get it now.
I'll come on to Erasure's remarkable ability with a pop single shortly, but I felt I had to highlight what I think is their greatest single, 1989's sublime Drama! With The Innocents, Erasure effectively mastered pop music, creating one of electronic pop's most remarkable albums, so their next move was always going to be interesting. Drama! added layers and layers to Erasure's sound, creating a powerful, over the top, extravagant masterpiece that still thrills to this day. An outstanding track and, as a bonus fact, one that features The Jesus And Mary Chain on backing vocals. That's quite a collision of two worlds.
3. Oh L'Amour
Simply perfect. As wonderful a love song as you'll get and an example of why early Erasure should not be ignored. How this single failed to have any impact is beyond me. Don't let Dollar's subsequent dreadful cover cloud it for you. Oh L'Amour is one of Erasure's most important singles and a song that remains a much loved part of their live set today. A useless piece of trivia is that it was the first song me and my mate John Harrower attempted when we formed a band in high school. Let's just say we didn't quite match Erasure. Dollar yes, but not Erasure.
4. No Doubt
Erasure's recent albums might not have matched their earlier work for consistency, but they can't be ignored as they contain many gems. No Doubt is the opening track of 2005's Nightbird and it revisits the soulful feel of some of the band's Innocents era tracks, adding sublime analogue sounds and featuring a chorus that soars. Album openers are tricky to get right but with No Doubt, Erasure nail it. The live version on the Nightbird tour was astonishing.
5. Heart Of Stone
Much like Chorus, The Innocents was full of songs that would easily have walked into the top 10. One of the great Erasure album tracks (and there are many) is Heart Of Stone from that album. It's pure pop perfection with wonderful lyrics where Andy sings of regret over a lost love. Easily one of their greatest songs, the album version, which is as near as perfect as you can get, was surpassed on the Phantasmagorical Tour with a live version that is beyond superb.
6 to 10: B-sides
6. Don't Suppose (Country Joe Mix)
Like any band worth caring about in the 1980's, Erasure knew the value of b-sides and their catalogue is filled with gems that in places rivaled the a-sides they accompanies. Don't Suppose is the b-side to Chains Of Love and it's best sampled in this remixed from the 12" release. The song has a melody that would bring a tear to a glass eye and lyrics that you can't help but adore. The additional banjo on this remix (hence the name) only serves to add a charming degree of country and western melancholy to great effect.
7. Die 4 Love
This track is the b-side from 2014's Reason single and it's almost a crime that it didn't make the cut for The Violet Flame. The song is reminiscent of a Chorus era b-side, which itself is a compliment, and it has one of those Erasure choruses. You know the type - instantly memorable, classic and impossible to forget. Other bands struggle for this sort of thing. Erasure use them as b-sides. That says all you need to know.
The 1994 single I Love Saturday was released as an e.p. giving us three additional tracks, all of which are worthy of inclusion here. Truly, Madly, Deeply's dark club feel is wonderful and Tragic (Live Vocal) is a spooky electro masterpiece, but it's Ghost that wins the day. 6 minutes long, confident, dark, it's a sensational track and provides a handy indicator for where Erasure were heading next with 1995's self titled album.
9. Over The Rainbow
Over The Rainbow is the b-side of Chorus the first release from the album of the same name. As with anything from that period, this song is unimpeachable genius and it pops up on the 7" and cd single. Sampled German vocals start, leading us into as jaunty a song as you'll ever need, where Andy sings about sitting by a pool listening to ABBA and much more. So, so good.
10. Gimme Gimme Gimme
Talking of ABBA, as we'll see and as you of course know, the band are fans and this was shown when a cover of this track featured as an extra track on the Oh L'Amour 12", appearing again in remixed form on the Limited Edition 12". It's a faithful cover, but it has an Erasure twist and it's one of the first Erasure tracks I can remember hearing, so it's a special one for me.
11-14: Erasure Live
11. Live generally
Erasure are an amazing live band. If you haven't seen them, you really have to experience it. As well as songs you will know inside out, they fill their setlists with classic album tracks, Vince remixes songs to update them for the shows and Andy never, EVER fails to give anything other than an 10/10 performance. As for his vocals live, trust me, you'll struggle to hear a better performer. Erasure will tour next year, so if you haven't seen them, change that. If you're in Glasgow, prepare yourselves for one of the loudest crowds at any gig you'll see next year. Not to be missed.
12. The Phantasmagorical Tour
The Wild world tour saw Erasure fill arenas worldwide and they ended the whole thing playing to a packed Milton Keynes bowl. For the tour following the Chorus album, they instead focused on smaller venues playing multiple nights at the likes of the Hammersmith Odeon and Edinburgh Playhouse. I saw them for the first time at the Playhouse and it was a remarkable experience. A setlist that played all of Chorus, the ABBA-esque e.p, a mechanical swan, Vince in a synth tank, backing singers who (a) were amazing and (b) John and I fell in love with instantly, halftime bingo and so much more - the whole thing was bewildering. It's still one of the finest shows I've seen and it highlights just how good Erasure are live.
13. The Tiny Tour
After a break of four years, Erasure returned to playing live with a hit packed set on the Tiny Tour, so called because they played small venues. Well, small to them anyway - I saw that at the Barrowlands for example. It was the first time tracks from Erasure had been played live and songs like Sono Luminus and Rock Me Gently fitted into their set seamlessly. Vince used old BBC computers on stage too which was rather cool. It was great to have them playing live again and, as they always do, they had the whole of the Barrowlands jumping.
14. The Violet Flame Tour
2014's The Violet Flame is up there with Erasure's best work which puts the album in rather illustrious company. The tour that accompanies it was Erasure's best in years with a live set that mixed classics with new tracks and saw Vince remix a number of songs for the live arena, using classic 12" mixes to great effect. The energy in the performances was a joy to behold and the gigs I saw were just huge celebrations of a band who deserve to be celebrated.
15. I Say I Say I Say
1994's I Say I Say I Say is often unfairly overlooked. The band didn't tour the album and Vince barely appeared in any of the videos. This apparent lack of enthusiasm from band is matched by the lack of enthusiasm most people have in the album but it's not album to be ignored. I Say I Say I Say marks the end of Erasure's pure pop phase with a near flawless collection of ten songs ranging from the full on pop of I Love Saturday to the more experimental So The Story Goes. It also features one of the greatest tracks Always which I'll come on to shortly. As a bridge between Chorus and Erasure, I Say I Say I Say is an important Erasure album and one to love.
This self titled album was released in 1995 and it saw Erasure at their most experimental. Gone were the three minute pop gems, replaced instead by lengthy tracks some of which were predominatly instrumental. The band's ability with melodies didn't disappear however, with tracks like Fingers And Thumbs (Cold Summer's Day) pushing the pop buttons perfectly. The album contains a number of tracks that are among the most gorgeous Erasure have produced - Sono Luminus and Rock Me Gently for example and the lead single, Stay With Me, is Erasure at their finest. Erasure is an album everyone should own.
The band's debut may be flawed in places but you can't ignore it. The singles are of course all great, but Wonderland is notable especially for two tracks that, for me, showed that Erasure were onto something special. Reunion and Love Is A Loser still sound as fresh as a daisy and both are simply perfect synthpop. The latter is as good as any of the singles releases from the album and when the band played it on the Phantasmagorical Tour, it received the warmest of welcomes. A sensational song.
18-22: 5 Singles everyone should own (that I haven't already mentioned)
18. A Little Respect
Obviously. I'll even overlook the dig at Depeche Mode in the video ;)
Have Erasure produced a more perfect love song that Always? The short answer is no. It's hard to adequately describe how incredible this track is. If you don't love it, you don't have a soul.
20. Stay With Me
As I mentioned above, Erasure at their finest.
21. Heavenly Action
Ignore anyone that says this is a bit too poppy - it's a love song, it's Erasure, it's therefore a winner.
If anyone thought Erasure's time had been and gone, 2005's Breathe put them right. There aren't many bands who can produce pop music like this. Embrace it.
23. Crackers International e.p.
Not content with releasing chart dominating singles and albums, Erasure decided to release a festive(ish) e.p. in 1988. Crackers International features five songs over its formats. The main e.p. contains four songs - Stop!, The Hardest Part, Knocking On Your Door and She Won't Be Home. Each one is, for want of a better phrase, a cracker with Stop! and Knocking On Your Door yet further examples of how to nail pop music, The Hardest Part a moody number and She Won't Be Home the one song on here that actually mentions Christmas. There's an odd bit after the line "She phones her mum" where there's a sampled voice saying "Hello" which never fails to make you think someone is in the room saying hello to you. Listen to it - you'll see what I mean. The remix 12" and cd was called Crackers International Part II and featured remixes of Stop! and Knocking On Your Door plus a rather spooky take on God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen. The limited edition Christmas card mini cd single is a rarity worth having.
If you're going to pay tribute to a band, why not record an e.p. of some of their best known songs and put your stamp on it to such an extent that you end up arguably bettering the originals. Ok, the rap by MC Kinky in Take A Chance On Me is remarkably bad, but that aside this e.p, which also features SOS, Voulez Vous and Lay All Your Love On Me is a masterpiece. The limited edition remix e.p. is superb too. This was Erasure's first number one which seems remarkable given the singles that preceded it and it was richly deserved. It was also Mute Records' first number one.
25. Am I Right?
Am I Right? is the third single the band released from Chorus which means of course that the song falls in to the act of genius category. The single took the form of an e.p. with three superb extra tracks Carry On Clangers, Let It Flow and Waiting For Sex keeping Am I Right? company. One Saturday morning at the time I saw an advert in Melody Maker saying a remix e.p. had been released too so I jumped on the bus from Castle Douglas to Dumfries, headed to Barnstorm records and bought it. The power of advertising eh? The remix e.p. is wonderful too, featuring remixes of Am I Right? by The Grid, Chorus by Moby and Love To Hate You by LFO together with an acoustic version of Chorus album track Perfect Stranger.
26-30: The Rest of Erasure
One aspect of the Erasure's releases that stands out is the artwork, certainly up to and including the Erasure album. Crackers International's festive art (below) is beautiful, the Chorus album cover's robotic features echoes the music perfectly and The Circus era singles and album are absolute peaches. The band took a lot of care with how they presented each release and the artwork only served to highlight how magical the songs it packaged were.
Like their labelmates Depeche Mode. Erasure were at the forefront of remixes in the days when the notion of 12" remixes simply meant adding 8 bars of extra bassline in the middle of the 7" version. Throughout their career, they've releases some outstanding remixes, too many in fact to run through in any depth here. The Am I Right? remix e.p. mentioned above is notable, but really most of their remixes up to recent times when they've become a bit too generic are worth having, especially from The Innocents era. Andy and Vince have even turned their hand to remixing themselves in recent years with Vince's takes on Stop, Chains Of Love and Hallowed Ground particular favourites of mine.
27. Pop! The First 20 Hits
If you take this album and Pet Shop Boys Discography, you don't need any other pop music in your life. I love the fact Pop! was subtitled The First 20 Hits as all that does is say "yeah we've got these 20 songs, they're all brilliant and we've only just started." To get a sense of exactly what Erasure achieved in their first 7 years, listen to this album in full and prepare to be blown away. The band's contribution is British music is, I think, hugely undervalued and criminally so. Erasure are simply one of the most important bands this country has produced and Pop! The First 20 Hits is all the evidence in support of that fact that you will need.
28. Andy Bell
Extravagant, blessed with a voice almost unmatched in music, an incredible stage presence, a prominent openly gay artist in a time which was a hugely important thing in a time when that wasn't necessarily the done thing in mainstream pop and much, much more. Andy is a gem and still manages to impress after all these years, with obvious joy every time he steps on stage. Fronting a duo is difficult when the other half hides behind banks of synths but Andy Bell makes it look effortless. He should be revered by everyone.
29. Vince Clarke
Vince is one of my heroes. He's a man who has managed to be in three of my favourite bands which alone is quite some feat. Depeche Mode causing too much pressure? Ok, jack that in and form Yazoo for a quiet life. Hmm that didn't work, Start a band with a singer no-one knows? Ah.Cue thirty years worth of incredible music. Vince simply cannot stop writing hits, no matter how hard he tries. He's easily one of the most influential figures in electronic music history and the thrilling thing is, he's getting more productive each year. The more Vince the better I say. One of my ambitions is to visit his studio in New York just to bask in the glory of his huge analogue synth collection. And to shake his hand and say thanks too of course.
30. Thank you Erasure
Here's to another 30 years.