We will live to love again…
With the release of new album The Neon, Erasure have stepped back into that energetic electropop world that the band built their legacy on, demonstrating that Andy Bell and Vince Clarke still have the chops to produce engaging electronic tunes.
Previous album World Be Gone (see The Electricity Club review) had been a much more sober affair, reflecting the troubling cultural climate that spawned it back in 2017. That change of gear wasn’t received well in some quarters, with the more moodier approach perhaps reflecting too closely a world that a lot of Erasure fans would rather escape from.
But those that felt shortchanged by World Be Gone are likely to warm more to The Neon. Erasure’s 18th studio album fizzes and buzzes with uptempo synth-pop and allows Andy Bell and Vince Clarke to work to their strengths. In fact, the writing of the album appears to have been a very productive affair, tapping into a creative well that exceeded the actual tracks that made it onto the final album.
“The fact that we had so many songs to pick from this time around, that was a big factor” commented Vince Clarke in a recent interview, “Usually, we write the ten songs, and then that’s it, but for this, somehow, we wrote a lot more. We knew that there were some good ideas and then it was up to the record company really to try and say, what was going to be on the album and which ones wouldn’t but will be released at some point in the future. That’s always the way; nothing really gets discarded.”
Purists, undoubtedly, will measure the material here against Erasure’s classic era, which is a high bar to clear. It’s always going to be tough for any act of Erasure’s calibre to sustain a high standard, particularly as both Bell and Clarke are not only getting older, but also drawing ideas and inspiration from different things. The music they ultimately produce also has to slot into a music scene that’s in a very different place than it was during the 1980s and 1990s.
All that said, The Neon offers up some fine moments that has that distinctive Erasure style stamped all over them. The effervescent ‘Hey Now (Think I Got A Feeling)’, the wistful ‘Nerves Of Steel’ and the anthemic ‘Shot A Satellite’ are all well-crafted electropop outings.
That’s not to say that The Neon doesn’t have its quieter moments. Some vestiges of World Be Gone have carried over to its up tempo successor. The intimate piano-led ballad of ‘New Horizons’, for instance, offers a beacon of hope in some ways, leading the way out of 2020’s grim legacy.
The first half of the album doesn’t let up, throwing a sequence of high octane electropop that’s tough to ignore. Opening with ‘Hey Now (Think I Got A Feeling)’, which offers a muscular outing packed with tight melodies and engaging rhythms. Here, Andy Bell is on fine form with a synth-pop sermon (“You’d better take my good advice”).
Later, there’s squelchy synth goodness on ‘Fallen Angel’, which offers uplifting lyrical riffs (“Ride on top of the roller coaster”) against a simpler, yet still powerful electropop anthem.
Meanwhile, ‘Tower Of Love’ delivers a more melancholic moment with Vince Clarke’s sedate synths backing up a composition that deals with themes of escape and reaching out.
“I never have a really clear idea of how the songs should sound in the beginning” commented Clarke in an interview with Sideline, “My process has always been about experimentation. I do have my favourite synths but I try and incorporate as many different machines as possible. It’s more interesting for me and hopefully results in less predictable sound.”
The album slips back into high gear on the blissful ‘Diamond Lies’ which, possibly more than any of the material on The Neon, seems most evocative of classic Erasure. At the same time, there’s an element of acid wit at work here as Bell lays down lyrical digs at “clueless pseudos”, drawing attention to the “diamond lies” of the song’s title.
The slower ‘New Horizons’ (apparently Clarke’s favourite album track) manages to take things down a notch, but despite the more sober approach here, it’s ultimately a song about hope with Bell earnestly singing “There will be new horizons/We will live to love again”. While the album, as a whole, is pitched towards a euphoric, upbeat feel, there’s still something comforting about a quieter moment that offers optimism.
The album closes out with the sumptuous ‘Kid You’re Not Alone’, a suitably downbeat composition that still serves up some charming melodic touches. here, Bell delivers one of the album’s finest vocal deliveries, with lines such as “Not alone, we live this life forever” coming across like a rallying call.
The Neon is a welcome respite during a year that’s been generally terrible, both politically and culturally – exacerbated by an ongoing pandemic that’s crippled the music industry. Erasure’s strengths for producing euphoric, hopeful electronic pop arrives as a suitable panacea; the album’s neon-fuelled optimism offering a bright spot on the horizon.
The Neon is out 21st August 2020 on Mute: https://mute.ffm.to/TheNeon
Erasure will be staging an online Virtual Christmas Party 2020 on 18th December 2020 at 8pm.
Andy Bell and Vince Clarke will be chatting about their festive plans, choosing some of their favourite festive tracks from the Erasure catalogue to play on the office gramophone, and will be answering questions submitted by fans. More details via: https://www.facebook.com/events/146215693583139/