Vince Clarke's technical alchemy and Andy Bell's soulful, choirboy voice is Erasure. With their elegant dance pop mixed with flashy live show, Erasure's study in opposites has produced a luminescent collection of work that's charted dozens of hits and sold millions of records in North America, the UK and around the world for twenty years. Uncompromising in their synth-based approach to music and production through the 80's, 90's and the present day, their influence has permanently penetrated the pop and dance landscape and has provided a blueprint for the thriving electronic indie underground from Brooklyn to Seattle. With their pop instincts and unparalleled showmanship once again on display with a new album and tour, Erasure are more relevant than ever as they return to the charts with their first studio album in seven years, Nightbird, and new single and video "Breathe."
At 44, Vince Clarke is undeniably one of the most influential figures in the short history of electronic music. Developing a reputation for hit songwriting first as one of the founding members of Depeche Mode in 1980 and then as one half of the legendary synth duo Yaz in 1982 (formed with school friend Alison Moyet), Clarke is responsible for many of the definitive electro-pop classics of the era, including "Just Can't Get Enough," "Dreaming Of Me," "Situation," "Only You" and "Don't Go" -- to name just a few.
Following the demise of Yaz and the short-lived Assembly (a one-off project with Feargal Sharkey), Vince found himself searching for a partner. Through an ad he placed in the UK music press, Clarke auditioned former professional meat mincer Andy Bell and settled on him as the new frontman for a new pop group -- Erasure. Twenty years later they are one of the most successful duos in the history of pop music
Clarke and Bellís collaboration was wildly successful from the very first, when singles like "Who Needs Love Like That," "Heavenly Action" and the classic "Oh L'Amour" placed the pair in regular rotation on US dancefloors and alternative radio in early days of the format and paved the way for Erasure's 1986 debut, Wonderland. Defining an enchanted work of high drama dance pop, the disc -- and Erasure's kaleidoscopic live show -- spawned the group's first major hit, "Sometimes," which reached #2 on the U.K. charts.
The Circus following in 1987, was propelled by an American tour with Duran Duran and instant dance classics like "It Doesn't Have To Be," "Victim Of Love" and the title track, which was subsequently re-released as the remix disc The Two Ring Circus, featuring six remixes and three re-recordings of the original LP.
In 1988, The Innocents, replete with some of Erasure's most assured and finely crafted work, went platinum in the States and sold over a million copies in Britain alone, launching the soulful, fervent hit, "Chains Of Love," the group's first American Top 40 hit. The band finished the year with their four track EP Crackers International.
Erasure's 1989 album, Wild, and its singles "Blue Savanah" and "Star," illustrated the growing strength and diversity of Andy and Vince's songwriting, pairing chilling ballads with Latin rhythms and bruised electro/psychodrama. Wild also marked the debut of a spectacular new stage show and a record-breaking tour that included the Far East, Japan, Australia, North and South America. 50,000 Argentineans gathered in a Buenos Aires park to watch a video of The Innocents; in New York, Erasure's Madison Square Garden show sold out in two hours flat.
Chorus, in 1990, opened still new sonic avenues for Erasure, with Andy's stratospheric vocal range playing counterpoint to Vince's deliberately synthetic, meticulously structured soundscapes. Abba-Esque, their playful paean to ABBA, was released in 1992 and yielded the hit, "Take A Chance On Me," which was a #1 U.K. single and, long before Mamma Mia, one of the first efforts to tap into the growing interest in the group and '70's nostalgia that was soon to overwhelm pop culture in the U.S.
Erasure's 1992 Phantasmagorical Entertainment tour kicked off with an unprecedented 15 nights at England's Manchester Apollo, and with another 15 at Hammersmith Odeon before launching a sold-out U.S. tour, including 13 sold-out shows at the Beacon Theater in New York City and 10 in Los Angeles. Their foray into theatrical extravaganza featured dancers, extra-musical activities such as bingo and ballooning, and a flurry of costume and scenery changes. The combination of Clarke's near-robotic reserve and Bell's flamboyance on stage proved irresistible, wowing critics and fans alike. A new live performance DVD of that unforgettable tour, The Tank, The Swan and The Balloon has just been released.
Following the Phatasmagorical Entertainment shows, the band released Pop -- the First 20 Hits and with their next studio effort I Say, I Say, I Say, Clarke and Bell began a new cycle of their stunning partnership, weaving a lavish sonic fantasy that couldn't have come from any other source. "Always," the first song released from I Say, I Say, I Say, became Erasure's most successful U.S. single to date and one of the biggest hits of 1994, according to Billboard's year-end chart.
For their ninth studio album, Erasure, released in 1995, Vince and Andy were in a more experimental mode, musically and vocally. Featuring guest performances by Diamanda Galas and the London Community Gospel Choir, Clarke and Bell surrounded such lovely ballads as "Stay with Me" with some of the lengthiest instrumental passages they've ever recorded, enlisting the expertise of producers Thomas Fehlmann (Orb) and Gareth Jones to realize their musical vision.
Despite its arrival at the very peak of the grunge movement in America, Erasure garnered some of the best reviews of the band's career. A first-ever acoustic performance at the opening of New York City's Spy Bar to celebrate the release of the disc was standing room only and proved what fans had known all along -- Erasure's success owed as much to their songs as their synths.
Signing to Maverick Records in spring of 1997, Clarke and Bell released a new single "In My Arms" and their eleventh studio album Cowboy. This album marked a return to the kind of up-tempo, three-minute dance-pop that earned Erasure legions of fans worldwide. The album was promoted with an all-request club tour and campy, Western-themed theater jaunt, which lived up to the groupís well-earned reputation as first-class showman.
Following a quiet period for Erasure following The Cowboy tour, the turn-of-the-century was marked by a real rejuvenation for Clarke and Bell, including some lengthy atmospheric collaborations between Clarke and Human League/Heaven 17 founder Martin Ware. Clarkeís prior work with Depeche Mode and Yaz has also been rediscovered by a whole new generation as the soundtracks to recent Gap ads, big budget car commercials and the placement of Yaz timeless hit "Only You" in The Office finale attest. This new attention to Erasureís musical legacy as well as the current '80s revival and the explosive growth of a new indie electronic scene, including such artists as Fisherspooner, The Postal Service, The Faint and many more, has vindicated Erasureís approach to music and production, proving that past is indeed prologue.
Clarke and Bell regrouped in 2003 to record and release Other Peopleís Songs, a loving collection of covers of their favorite songs including a bubbly version of Peter Gabrielís "Solisbury Hill," which put them back in the Top 10 in the UK and generated a Top Of The Pops performance and sold out venues throughout the world. The Very Best of Erasure (Rhino) two-disk hits album followed, reminding us once again of the beloved and influential string of hits and pioneering remixes Erasure have amassed.
Following Other Peopleís Songs tour, Vince moved to the U.S. and continued writing and recording new songs for Erasure, as well as composing scores for short films and collaborating with Psychedelic Furs frontman Richard Butler on a bouncy piece of electro-pop for an episode of Johnny Bravo. Andy began work on a much-anticipated solo album that will likely be released following the Nightbird CD and the tour is completed.
With the debut of Nightbird (Mute), a title referring to Bellís insomnia, Clarke and Bell have crafted a classic Erasure album which is sure to excite long-time fans and attract a whole new generation of listeners to their melodic and moving synth pop. It is the first original Erasure music released in the U.S. in nearly eight years. From the bittersweet and throbbing single "Breathe" to the atmospheric trip hop of "No Doubt" or retro-synth sounds of "Here I Got Impossible Again" and high energy dance groove of "All This Time Still Falling Out Of Love," Erasureís trademark sound -- Bellís angelic vocals buoyed by Clarkeís effervescent synths -- is there in full force: fresher and more vibrant than ever.
"The last couple of albums were a bit moody and down," says Bell, as characteristically honest and direct as usual. "I'm so much happier with everything now, and so is Vince. You can hear it in the music. This is easily the best thing we've done for a long time."
"Andy is as excited about this record as he was when we first started releasing records," concurs Clarke. "He's like a little kid. And the record is more upbeat. We're both in a good spiritual place."
What better way, then, to launch another new phase of classic songwriting and innovative musicianship than with a record as uplifting, shiny and new as Nightbird?
Ordinarily, Andy Bell writes his lyrics in isolation, usually at home in North London. Indeed, he'd come up with some at the tail end of 2002, just as Erasure finished work on their last album, their covers collection Other People's Songs. - http://www.girlieaction.com