ERASURE – THE VIOLET FLAME
For most people of my age (39 plus 15 months), Erasure hold a special place in their childhood hearts. Along with the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure dominated the charts in the late 80’s and into the early 90’s with hit after hit, and each one was a pop gem from A Little Respect to Love To Hate You. The band took more of a back seat in the 90’s by not touring I Say I Say I Say or the outstanding Erasure and then, occasional singles aside, tailed off a bit through Cowboy, Loveboat and later albums. Whilst the odd gem would appear (Don’t Say Your Love Is Killing Me, In My Arms, Breathe, No Doubt), the band’s output did dip in quality although their live shows continued to get stronger and stronger making them a must see live band.
Last year’s Christmas album Snowglobe was a fine album and did point to the band regaining some form. Like The Violet Flame, it was produced by Richard X and his production really seems to sit well with Erasure. The music was less cluttered than say on Tomorrow’s World and Andy’s lyrics more to the point than on previous ventures. Happily, that has carried on with The Violet Flame and with this album, Erasure have re-announced themselves and rediscovered their mojo.
Album opener, Dead of Night, isn't a Depeche Mode cover, but instead is a great opening track which sounds fresher than Erasure have in many a year and straightaway gets the pulse racing. In the main, The Violet Flame is an album that has one eye on the dancefloor, in the same way that Pet Shop Boy’s Electric did. Unlike, PSB however, Erasure don’t feel the need to try and make a full on club style album; instead they rightly play to their strengths (and what strengths) and never lose sight of what made them the brilliant band they are in the first place – pop music. Dead of Night is a great pop song and a great opener.
First single Elevation is up next and if you've heard it already you’ll know how good it is. The first single back of any Erasure campaign is always an exciting prospect given that it has meant the likes of Chorus, Always or the still beautiful Breathe in the last few years. Elevation goes back to Chorus days in that it’s fast, bleepy and, frankly, really, really good. It’s also hugely catchy so don’t expect to listen to it once then forget it. You won’t be able to.
Reason and Promises follow next, with the former being a stronger song than the latter. Reason is another track that harks back to classic era Erasure but still keeps the sound modern. Vince stands out here with some fantastic noises but the addition of a piano line over the main synth parts makes the song stronger and overall it’s a great track. Promises shows off my theory about the music having more room to breathe than on previous albums. It is a little Euro trancey in places for my tastes but in the context of the album it works. That is very much a good thing by the way. Since Erasure last went thematic on an album (Vince’s concept masterpiece Erasure) their albums have sometimes seemed to be 3 or 4 singles and a few other tracks added in. The Violet Flame has a focus throughout and that is to be welcomed.
Be The One slows the pace down and comes over like those weirder tracks Erasure used to stick on albums like Yahoo, Love The Way You do So or even The Circus which let’s face it was never the most obvious choice for a single but was brilliant. I get a feeling of experimentation on this track which kicks of with a single synth noise that I am sure is meant to put you in mind of Sometimes. It’s a ballad of sorts and has one of those melodies that Vince and Andy excel at. Sacred follows and, again, isn’t a Depeche Mode cover although when you think about it, that would be an excellent choice of Depeche song for Erasure to cover, if you’ll forgive the aside. The song starts off along the lines of Rock Me Gently or Sono Luminus but then wanders through the doors of a club and hits the dancefloor which, I am pleased to say, really works.
Under The Wave appears at track 7 and begins almost like a Vince home demo. The track beeps and bleeps in all the right places and is immediately redolent of the band’s Chorus era highpoint. It certainly has a classic Erasure feel to it. Smoke and Mirrors comes next and here we see the influence of Vince’s side project with Martin Gore, VCMG. It’s a fascinating track. Musically it’s a lot darker than most of the rest of the album and, like Be The One, it’s one of those slightly odder Erasure tracks that I personally love. At first, it feels like the song never changes gear or goes anywhere particularly, but on the next listen you’re hooked.
The album’s penultimate track is Paradise. I’ve joked about Depeche covers above but could this be Erasure covering themselves by rebooting Drama’s lost classic b-side? No, that’s not the case but this isn’t a bad song at all. For me , this one shows Richard X’s involvement most obviously and whilst that’s ok, I prefer it if I can only hear Vince and Andy.
The album ends with the lovely Stayed A Little Late Though, a forlorn look back at the end of a relationship (“I just wanted everything top be perfect”) and it’s the perfect song to end the album.
So, is The Violet Flame worth getting excited about? Yes it is. After a few recent false starts, Erasure have relaxed and got back to doing what they do best – pop music. Perhaps the duo’s recent side projects have allowed them to refocus and even re-energised them and if that is the case, then well done Erasure. Simply put, this is Erasure’s finest album since Chorus. Bring on the tour!