The Violet Flame

The most important thing one can say about Erasure in 2014 is that they were right all along. Faced with a steady stream of rockist sneers and elitist dismissals that would have compelled weaker or more reasonable artists to dive headfirst into a woodchipper, the boys just kept on dancing. Despite baggy, grunge, and every other trend worth hopping on for a hot minute, Erasure played the long game, pressing towards a future indirectly influenced, yet undeniably informed by them.

Close to thirty years since recording their first album Wonderland, you can hear the duo’s legacy in enormous hit singles from contemporary pop artists like Charlie XCX, Katy Perry, Maroon 5, and Rihanna. It’s hard to imagine the successes of Calvin Harris, Empire Of The Sun, Swedish House Mafia, The Violet Flame co-producer Richard X, or countless other artists in the absence of Vince Clarke’s relentless devotion to the dancefloor. Still seemingly enthralled by the exponential prospects synthesizers can offer a skilled tactician, he has yet to lose faith in the Eurodance he helped to usher in.

Outside of Erasure, Clarke’s collaborations with his former Depeche Mode bandmate Martin Gore as VCMG–the product of two men in their fifties–sounded remarkably current, as well as on brand with their respective discographies. This is genuine, unconditional love for synthpop or dance-pop or whatever positive pop synonym we’re calling it now. While it’s defensible to dub Erasure futurists given the outcome, I suspect they’d be reluctant to accept the honor. Instead, let’s credit them for being among the rare few who carried the torch and played the torch songs when others wouldn’t or couldn’t.

Consistency in their endeavors thus far has been key; the duo took surprisingly few detours over the years. Beyond the brief retreats of 2000’s Loveboat, the libertine twang of Union Street, and last winter’s seasonally affected Snow Globe, Erasure albums have largely played out in one part of the nightclub or another, be it the sweaty ecstatic main room or the more subdued lounge or the anything-goes toilets. There’s muted sadness and joy in Andy Bell’s vocals that always manages to ground Clarke’s spirited productions and thus connect on a human level, emotionally tethering listeners to the dancefloor.

Moreso than 2011’s Tomorrow’s World, The Violet Flame is an accessible blessing for longtime fans and curious newcomers alike. Of its ten tracks, only two stray from a 4/4 rhythm: ‘Smoke And Mirrors’ and ‘Be The One,’ the latter a ballad in the tradition of ‘Always’. Otherwise, the album hits like a good pill at the right moment. Opener ‘Dead Of Night’ is all updated nu-disco Cerrone melodies and earnest enunciations. On ‘Sacred’ and infectious lead single ‘Elevation,’ Bell preaches of uplifting love, though elsewhere it appears to bring him down (‘Promises’, ‘Under The Wave’).

The complexities of relationships has been a constant touchpoint in Bell’s lyrics and thus the Erasure discography. Even at this stage in his life, they still seem tremendous vexing to him or the characters speaking in his work. While his voice is so distinct and arresting, it’s important not to lazily conflate the events of his life with his music, though we have to accept that it is at least an outlet for his feelings and ideas about it all. It’s far too easy to hear a song like ‘Reason’ and presume it references a personal relationship when it could just as easily be about the band’s fanbase and their support throughout the years.

What ultimately matters is that Erasure matters, against the prevailing logic of the ages that their type of music was instantly dated or emotionally robotic. Lo and behold, the cognoscenti were wrong. Rock music nowadays is directionless junk, an atom split into billions of equally boring bits. The machines have risen in their stead, soundtracking a generation that won’t be defined by slogans and sodas because there’s too many subgroups to contend with. It bodes well that an enduring team like Erasure can continue to sonically connect with what’s happening now, while false prophets like U2 can’t even give their stuff away to the kids.

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