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Erasure – The Violet Flame

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Erasure - The Violet FlamePerennial problems of established bands — your new record is very good, but you also wrote… fucking hell, “Oh L’amour,” “Drama!,” “Ship of Fools,” “Blue Savannah,” “Victim of Love”… I mean, just the ornately extended “never” on “Drama!” is enough to merit a statue of Messrs Bell and Clarke on every street corner, let alone that they’re basically better than the Pet Shop Boys in terms of consistency, except God knows why, they’re not written about in the same terms (Erasure are more glaringly out maybe?).

Anyway, it’s not a competition, but Erasure are always worth listening to. And they’re doubly worth seeing live — last I saw them was… oh my word, yeah, that was awesome — Sophie Ellis-Bexter supporting and putting on the most amazingly awesome show of “fucking hell, she’s written loads of great tunes, Erasure’ll never top this;” then Erasure top it like seasoned executioners. That’s a shit simile, but you get the idea. Fucking hell that was a good gig though. In spite of the fact it absolutely shat it down. And the beer was criminally over-priced.

So the new record. Some boring first: I’ve never known synth fetishists to get into the band, which is strange as Clarke’s long had one of the weirdest sets of really bouncy, colourful synth sounds that are very sweetly considered. He’s managed to keep a similar palette for a long time now, regardless of technology changes – though looking at his gear list on Wikipedia, there’s a fair mix of old and new stuff. Maybe I’m just talking to the wrong sorts of synth weirdoes, but he often felt a bit under-celebrated to me.

Bell, meanwhile, hasn’t ever really had a dip in form. Vocally, he’s on it, always. Perhaps the biggest difficulty with reviewing Erasure is that their sound is so familiar, familial even (my sister played them through the walls for most of my childhood). It’ll take a while for this record to seep in properly and get that feeling of being a “canonical” Erasure album – doubly difficult when I’ve been listening to Circus, consciously or not, for most of my life.

The question then is whether there are any belters on here — and yeah. Rarely for a proper pop group, Erasure have always been good at a low-tempo number — here we have the utterly sensuous, gorgeous, warm blanket-cum-old friend of “Be the One.” Which, in typical keep ’em listening fashion (Erasure are really good at sequencing albums), goes straight into the poppers o’clock “Sacred,” which has the (ahem) Mozartian ostinatos that make Clarke someone whose composition always seems just smart enough to be clever but never clever enough to seem “clever” (meaning “music theory wanker”). Bubbley verses and OH MY GOD THIS IS THE BEST MOMENT EVER choruses. And some good old fashioned affirmative hold on tight sentiment on the lyrical front.

Again, the difficulty of letting this seep in is that it’s tricky pulling out the best track — initially it was the opener “Dead of Night” (Erasure-by-numbers is still better than most groups on a good day). Today it’s minor key (gasp) number “Smoke and Mirrors,” which is another of Bell’s great breakup numbers — plenty of showboating on his really-quite-lovely vibrato and some tight matching of breathy voice to sinuous synths.

Yeah, well, anyway — it’s Erasure, and Erasure remain of our greatest pop groups — there’s a good reason their fans are insanely loyal, and here’s another reason to have a bit of trust and loyalty.

-Kev Nickells-

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