Total Pop! Erasure’s First 40 Hits

Back in their blue-sequinned, “burlesque cowboy” prime, coming out as an Erasure fan would, to the nervous, necessarily have been preceded by a period of anguished soul-searching, during which all-too-familiar feelings of self-denial, shame and revulsion would rise to the surface. Happily we live in more enlightened times and, with every aggressively-hyped synth-pop arriviste worth their salt proclaiming the ineffable pop genius of messers Bell and Clarke, this career-spanning double-CD retrospective arrives at a timely juncture. 

Total Pop! The First 40 Hits handily divides the two phases of Erasure’s career into separate CDs: the first capturing their majestic run of singles from 1985 to 1992 which made them, for a time, Britain’s finest exponents of sumptuous, irresistible disco-pop, and the second charting their seemingly terminal decline into sterile AOR blandness.

Anyone who heard and enjoyed Dreams Come True, Jon Savage’s recent compilation of seminal early ‘80s synth-pop, couldn’t fail to recognise Vince Clarke’s invaluable contribution to the genre through first Depeche Mode and later Yazoo. Certainly, ‘Who Needs Love (Like That)’, Erasure’s debut single, bears Yazoo’s unmistakeable imprint, with Andy Bell content to mimic Alison Moyet’s dulcet vocals. But it was only as Bell’s influence grew, and that imperious falsetto was foregrounded, that Erasure blossomed into the unstoppable pop powerhouse of reputation. From the effete hormonal cravings of ‘Oh L’Amour’ to the pouting disco throb of ‘Stop!’, the lush electro-splendour of ‘Blue Savannah’ to the camp melodrama of ‘Love To Hate You’, these are simply some of the most gloriously effervescent pop anthems ever recorded. And then of course there’s ‘A Little Respect’ a song so giddily exuberant that even the tawdry spectre of Wheatus can’t quite tarnish its lustre. 

Given the infectiousness and general ubiquity of these tunes, it’s surprising to note that Erasure’s only UK number one came in the form of the Abba-esque EP, represented here by their high-NRG take on ‘Take A Chance On Me’. With its naff ‘90s rap middle section, it can’t help but sound a touch dated, but coming at a time before ABBA’s critical rehabilitation it remains a brazenly unironic homage. Unfortunately, it was to signal an end of their halcyon era and the start of a creative slump which saw a rapid descent into self-parody. ‘Always’ and ‘Run To The Sun’, their last bona fide chart hits, were surefooted day-glo pop anthems which fitted seamlessly into the canon, but from here on in there’s the distinct impression of water being trod. Singles such as ‘Stay With Me’ and ‘Rock Me Gently’ remain serviceable enough ballads, but lack the pizzazz and charm of earlier releases.

By 2003 they’d reached something of a career nadir courtesy of that last refuge of the creatively bankrupt, the covers album. Heard again now, their lumpen interpretations of ‘Solsbury Hill’ and ‘(Come Up And See Me) Make Me Smile’ fall some way short of disastrous, but in truth add nothing new or worthwile to the originals. Similarly ropey are the last half dozen songs on this compilation, seemingly here purely to make up the numbers, plus a supremely pointless 2009 remix of ‘Always’. 

But if the second CD is patchy and dispensable, it only serves to emphasise the unimpeachable brilliance of the first. That Erasure were fated forever to remain in the critical and commercial shadow of fellow synth-pop behemoths the Pet Shop Boys seems largely down to their more overtly gay aesthetic: while Q journalists and Mondeo Man alike could cheerfully endorse the latter’s arch pop nous and ambiguous sexuality without too many hang-ups, it was harder to fully embrace Erasure’s flamboyant outrageousness without finding your masculinity just a little compromised. No matter: in an era when the contrived camp affectations of The Scissor Sisters and Mika is hailed as in some way progressive and ground-breaking, Erasure deserve to be celebrated for their sparkling originality and crusading flamboyance, but mostly for their impeccable tuneage. Be out and be proud.

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