Always: The Very Best Of Erasure

Although they’ve long settled into a comfortable stasis – no longer at the pinnacle of the pop pantheon, but still mattering to many of their fans – the cumulative power of Erasure’s music has been woven so intricately into the DNA structure of UK pop, they still exert an omnipresence. Their songs of love and life in all its glory, allied with the shining synths of Vince Clarke and Andy Bell’s irrepressible vocals had a disgustingly giddy effect on those who listened.

So while I haven’t listened to Erasure’s music for a number of years, when I put on Always: The Very Best Of Erasure, a 3 CD, 43 track collection of their hits, along with selected and new remixes, it was like flicking on a switch in the back of my head, the song dumping a full-on rush of joyous pop energy that had this jaded cynical husk humming and singing to himself while walking down the street.

The first disc is essentially a whistle stop tour of the last three decades from their debut hit, ‘Who Needs Love Like That’ to a 2015 reworking of ‘Sometime’ from David Wrench, who adds just that little bit of sharpness and polish to the original. Laid out in chronological order, it’s interesting hearing the genesis, growth, and evolution of their sound. With the exuberance of ‘Oh L’amour’ and ‘Sometimes’, and the career defining hits ‘A Little Respect’ and ‘STOP!’, in the 90s you hear, on ‘Fingers And Thumbs (Cold Summer’s Day’), a drift to an increasingly modular sound, as well as a more club friendly euro-house beat. By the time we reach ‘Be With You’ and ‘Elevation’, they’ve morphed into a mature trance-pop aesthetic that, while sleek, glossy and uptempo, still beats the same euphoria that they were known for 30 years before.

Anyone who is a fan of Erasure will have their own favourites, but one of the big pleasures of listening to Always… is the way it unlocks moments of memory and affect for me. I was too young to properly catch the first flurry of hits in the mid 80s, only really taking notice when the likes of ‘A Little Respect’ and ‘Stop!’ hit the top of the charts. The song that made me fall for them in a big way though was ‘Blue Savannah’. Seeing the video on TV, with the camera taking the viewpoint of the floating blue hand that would flutter around Bell and Clarke ensnared my young brain. Hearing the song again, with its soft Latin rhythm, soaring piano arpeggios and Bell’s melodramatic vocals after such a long time brings on a huge smile of pleasure.

Hearing Erasure’s songs again after all this time also brought out hidden depths that weren’t so apparent the first time around. As kids my friends and I would all chant "Don’t upset the teacher!" from ‘The Circus’, but listening again I realise just how politically skewed and angry the song actually was, with its tales of lost jobs and communities thrown on the scrapheap. The stroppy grunge-obsessed teen in me was also put off by the duo’s overt campy kitsch in the early to mid 90s with the likes of ‘I Love To Hate You’ and ‘Take A Chance On Me’ from their Abbaesque EP. But, older and wiser, I can now hear the playfulness and glee in these tracks, while the aching heart on ‘Always’ brings a little lump to my throat.

The next two discs contain a ream of favoured remixes from the duo’s back catalogue with new remixes from Grumbling Fur, GRN and a full reworking of ‘Chain Of Love’ by Vince Clarke Himself, where he strips the 80’s pop rhythms and airy gospel space and inserts a pumping tech house beat. Grumbling Fur’s Eternal Eraser mix of ‘The Circus’ amplifies the melancholia and anger of the original with field recordings of rain and woozy echoed synth smears, giving the track the feel of an elegy for a lost time. GRN’s remix of ‘Breathe’ aerates the original by replacing the heavy synth baseline with popping percussion and high pitched-reedy synth melodies.

Out of the remaining tracks, there are those that definitely stand out from the rest. The Big Train remix of ‘A Little Respect’ adds flurries of rolling toms to the rhythms, while Vince Clarke’s own Sync 82 remix of ‘Stop!’ has a rumbling train of a bassline with twanging guitar line in the chorus. Moby’s vegan mix of ‘Chorus’ splices the vocals with a pulsing breakbeat. Mark Pichiotti’s take on ‘Freedom’ turns the acoustic pop of the original inside out by adding a heady swathe of flamenco guitar and tension.

There have been several other Erasure "best of" compilations over the years, but in a contemporary world of hyper assemblage, damage-ridden pop written by committee, Always… again reminds us just how brilliant Bell and Clarke were – indeed still are – as pop songwriters. While the Pet Shop Boys adopted a cerebral, cynical stance with a society that they were aside from yet engaged with, and Soft Cell were the Dionysian agents in the gutter while looking at the stars, Erasure were Apollo’s children, glittering with the beauty and radiance of a thousand suns. Erasure’s true power comes not from hiding the gay experience of the time in the shadows of subtext and artifice. No, their exultations were of a passion and devotion that is unafraid, that is embodied in emotion and affirmation, not of tragedy.

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