Day-Glo (Based On A True Story)

An extensive re-working of 2020’s *The Neon* becomes an entirely new album, showcasing the 35-year-old synth pop group at their strangest and most experimental

The COVID-19 lockdowns took many things from us – people, sanity, health, sometimes relationships, sometimes jobs. The only thing they really gave back was time. Musicians accustomed to hurtling gig-to-gig, engagement to engagement, meeting-to-meeting suddenly had thumbs to twiddle and space to think. Not only that, they had stuff to process. The weirdness of the world. All of that isolation and anger, all of that helplessness. It’s given rise to that most unexpected curio of 2020s cultural life: the lockdown album.

Left with what he’s described as “unscheduled downtime” in the studio, Erasure’s Vince Clarke found himself deconstructing the composite parts of the duo’s previous album, The Neon, 2020’s gloriously poptastic return to the upper-end of the album charts. Delving below the toplines and melodies, he rediscovered the atmosphere and texture he’d layered beneath the sparkle. With an apparent mixture of boredom and curiosity, he began to rearrange them.

Clarke didn’t just remix The Neon; he broke it down and built it again, nailing its planks together in new ways until most were largely unrecognisable. He literally made the album anew, and thus by extension made a new album, one far more ambient and oddly lonely than its parent. The results were packaged off to singer Andy Bell, who tapped into the same spirit of oddity and isolation, building more textures and more ambience using stacked and treated layers of his own voice. The results are sparse on words – though they do come – and big on mood.

Day-Glo is unexpectedly satisfying for a project that, on paper, could feel a little slight and unnecessary. Erasure have always had more beneath the hood than they’ve necessarily been given credit for. There’s been bangers-a-plenty (of course there are), but Clarke and Bell are more than a two-headed pop machine.: one an electronica veteran, never a stranger to an icy synthscape; and the other able to tap into a quiet, studied introspection as easily as he can sugar-rush flamboyance. They’re skills they both put to use on Day-Glo

Thus we have the slow heartbeat of opener ‘Based On a True Story’, which gathers its constituent parts slowly as it rolls through the world like a snowball. It’s a genuinely gorgeous and strange thing, at once chilly and warm – a feat that can really only be pulled off with the throb of analogue electronics. What’s fascinating is how often the coldness is coming from Bell’s vocal texture, and the warmth from Clarke’s wurbles and blips. You’d expect it to be the other way around. It sets the template for the rest of the record, which only occasionally has Bell lapsing into anything as vulgar as a traditionally sung narrative or recognisable lyric.

The whole album is an admirable exercise in sonic restraint. On ‘The Conman’, Bell delivers a faintly bitter spoken word piece that seems to take aim at the legal profession (“six years of training, to be a conman”), before declaring that “you’ve got to rise up, stand up and be counted, don’t be a coward, make your opinion known”, double-underlined with a poison kiss-off line suggesting that such decency might make a good “angle”.

Elsewhere Bell’s lyrical contributions are purely textural, singing “bop-beat” on a song called ‘Bop-Beat’ and “now” on a song called ‘Now’, these pieces snipped and doubled and replicated, used for their percussive quality and resonance. Clarke, meanwhile, is as dark here as he’s ever been. On ‘Inside Out’ or ‘Pin Prick’ he’s conducting a rave inside the brain of Marvin the Paranoid Android, while on ‘The Shape of Things’ it’s cinematic, Blade Runner soundscapes, odd, lonely melodies washing in and out.

Not that the duo can resist the odd ‘proper’ song. ‘3 Strikes and You’re Out’ is pretty classic Erasure, albeit the less celebrated, odder incarnation of the band that delivered their ambient 1995 Erasure album, rather than the one that did ABBA covers in drag. “Here I stand naked before you now” sings Bell, “like the second I came into this world”. It’s not a bad way of viewing Day-Glo, a record unafraid to show you its very bones.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today