★★★ CD: ERASURE - WORLD BEYOND The perennial pop duo's latest album re-arranged for chamber ensemble
That Erasure have stuck to the tonalities of electropop – and not just electropop, but the extra gay hi-NRG flavour thereof, with Andy Bell's theatrical voice cartwheeling off Vince Clarke's fizzing beats – for seventeeen albums now makes them a gloriously reassuring musical presence. It also means that they are often not treated with the seriousness which they absolutely deserve. Contrast with their Mute labelmate Nick Cave who, thanks to his rock'n'roll demeanour is positively lauded for working through the same themes, lyrically and musically, time and time again. Bell's narratives of sexual and romantic yearning and a constant search for a sense of home in an alienating world certainly aren't going to have the greybeards of the rock press holding him up as a great poet.
But Erasure's records are great, 2017's World Be Gone included. World Beyond is a re-recording of that record with all the electronics replaced by Belgian-based post-classical ensemble Echo Collective, and it's a mixed bag. WBG had a lot of slower, lusher songs on it, and maybe it would have benefited more from a lavish, full-orchestral treatment to really bring their drama out.
But maybe that wasn't the intention: the spare, small-ensemble arrangements do frame Bell's voice very elegantly, and when it all flows together (“Be Careful What You Wish For”, “Sweet Summer Loving”, and particularly the bittersweet “Lousy Sum of Nothing”), the songs are beautifully refreshed. There's certainly enough magic to engender a great sense of possibility: one starts to wonder what might happen if the partnership were extended, and how Clarke and Bell would write specifically with strings, chimes and piano in mind. Not that we'd ever want Erasure to abandon electropop for too long...