It feels like a long time since Erasure did anything that memorable. Their recent ‘comeback’ records have paled in comparison to their peers’ (Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s English Electric; New Order’s Music Complete), and last year’s Moscow to Mars anthology box-set felt like a missed opportunity, with very little in the way of newly unearthed material from the earlier years people really care about.
With that in mind, then, it’s probably naïve to call World Be Gone ‘disappointing’. Vince Clarke’s synthesisers are, as ever, gleaming and (to these ears at least) it sounds as if analogue was preferred in these sessions, with warm tonality and crisp, pealing waveforms reminiscent of the bell-esque Roland System-100. In fact, for his nuanced rejection of newer, digital electronics, Clarke sounds about as close to his former self as he ever has. Andy Bell, too, has aged magnificently – his voice soars and the multi-layered vocal effects sound gaily orchestral and never corny. The songs themselves, however, are forgettable scaffolds – skeletons of pop.
Some tracks harbour melodies that threaten to become radio-anthems, but at every opportunity, the arrangements flop… beautifully, with saccharin electronics and Bell’s sweet tenor waxing pretentiously over the top… but flopping, nonetheless. Faster, A Bitter Parting would’ve scored Erasure a top 20 hit in the mid-‘90s; Be Careful What You Wish For! wastes a brilliant idea on a dull, ethereal mix. At their worst, the boys descend into the ranks of cheap copyists – lead single Love You to the Sky, thieves plainly from Gwen Stefani’s The Great Escape, without even the integrity to modify the refrain ‘tell me.’ (It’s like they wanted to be caught out, or something). This issue comes across in the production too – it’s a strangulation of ambient warmth that blunts Clarke’s infamous razor-edge, leaving the dynamics sounding really quite pedestrian.
The lyrics also try far, far too hard. The genius of their early dance hits was a total semantic concession to the banality of discotheque habitation: simple refrains about feeling good and designed to makes you feel even better. When it comes to the global political meltdown concerning contemporary culture however, Erasure find themselves unfortunately poised – it’s not that I’m ignorant to the world’s problems, it’s just that I’d rather Josh Tillman told me about them using something cerebral and probing like Pure Comedy. On a good number of this album’s tracks (e.g. Take Me Out of Myself), Andy Bell’s got something ‘big’ to say, but as you can imagine, it feels a bit naff. When he’s not being political, the same issues plague his aged observations on lurrrve: Sweet Summer Loving’s sinister synths suggest an irony, but the very plastic language makes it hard to tell. Cynicism doesn’t suit him either; Lousy Sum of Nothing is preachy and massive in an ugly, self-aware way that 1987’s Hideaway, for example, wasn’t.
Sad as this sorry affair is, there’s something to be said for incongruous closer Just a Little Love, which, for all its upbeat Casiotone mastery, may just have fallen out of the Wonderland sessions and through a thirty-year time-warp. It’s still a bit hyperbolic lyrically, stuffed full of lame rhymes and over-produced, but there’s a slice of something old in there, which is, if nothing else, a nice way to wave off the end of the record.
Without sounding too despondent, this is familiarly sad territory for Erasure fans. The synthesisers offer tantalising aural suggestions to the writer’s own impossibly boring questions, and the lack of boundary-pushing production leaves listeners feeling stale. The lyrics don’t probe. The production sounds too immersive to evoke the same grass roots Englishness of the band’s old material. It’s same old, same old, with little to report between Cowboy and now. Don’t dance – you can’t.