To dismiss Erasure as mere “synthpop pioneers” seems like it’d be erroneous; it’s true, the duo of Vince Clark and Andy Bell built a career from the ground up, dolling up their sound with more canned drumbeats and squelching keyboards than you could shake a Yaz at. But any pop connoisseur knows the real deal: peel away the layers, and what remained under that distinctly-80’s veneer were, simply, a series of excellent pop songs. Melodically, next to nothing can compete with peak-era Erasure, and Bell’s high, lilting tenor simply drove these songs directly into the heart.
And, as icons are wont to do, Erasure have continued to release records long after they peaked with their glorious LP The Innocents. Interestingly enough, their latest, Tomorrow’s World, winks at the inherent inaccuracy of its title by planting both feet firmly in the past; and, yet, armed with nine new songs and beats tarted-up by today’s hitmakers (Lady Gaga boardsman Frankmuzik gets a production credit here), Erasure manage to sound retro and current, all at the same time.
Perhaps that’s not really Erasure’s doing. Today’s pop music is personified by the sort of pulsating beats and day-glo synthesizers that Erasure simply know as the brand they’ve been peddling for 25 years now. Certainly, the fact that Tomorrow’s World sounds so remarkably of-the-moment speaks to the influence of folks like Erasure on the kiddies, right? (Indeed, if LMFAO were capable of the sort of resplendent, addictive melodies that personify perennial classics like “A Little Respect”… well, we’d all like LMFAO, wouldn’t we?) And while Tomorrow’s World betrays a pleasant confidence in their signature sound, the truth is, there are only so many melodies out there, and it looks like Erasure may have exhausted their supply.
Mind you, Erasure outpace many of their descendants here. Outfits like Cobra Starship, 3oh!3, and the aforementioned LMFAO that use synthpop as a subconscious touchstone are summarily dismissed, if only because Tomorrow’s World never actively grates. It rarely excites, but it’s never annoying. But for all of the album’s giddy pop veneer, too many of these songs are too pedestrian to work. Openers “Be With You” and “Fill Us With Fire” skate by without registering in the brain – an immediate knock against any Erasure album, simply by virtue of their earworm qualities. “A Whole Lotta Love Run Riot” runs Andy’s vocals through an unnecessary wall of filtering, effectively neutering what could, in theory, be a soaring chorus under all of that mess. “Then I Go Twisting” boasts a promising title, but works in the same sort of Chris Brown-via-David Guetta laser show that too much of the rest of the album becomes bogged down with. Which, to be clear, is fine theoretically – it’s just that, in practice, Tomorrow’s World offers little in the way of truly crackling songcraft, and certainly doesn’t boast enough to justify this sort of ecstasy-fueled dog-and-pony show.
But that doesn’t mean that Erasure’s great moments are behind them. Tracks on Tomorrow’s World blur, ooze into one another without bearing any marks of distinction, for the most part; but when one jumps out, it really jumps. “What Will I Say When You’re Gone?” boasts all the hallmarks of classic Erasure: the stuttering beat maintains its subtlety, never attacks the senses except for a few stray flanger blasts, and the subdued melody brings Bell’s evocative vocals to the forefront. Even better is “When I Start To (Break It All Down)”, which works for all the same reasons that a song like “A Little Respect” did without slavishly recreating past success. Bell takes his time in building his lead vocal to its inevitable crescendo, culminating in a downright glorious falsetto chorus; that midtempo beat hinges on little more than a subtle chord structure and canned drums marching in 2/4 time, and for four stunning minutes, 2011 Erasure is able to hit all the stunning heights of 1988 Erasure. It’s a lovely pop achievement, nestled squarely in the middle of an otherwise unremarkable record.
Erasure have the right idea on Tomorrow’s World; they haven’t decided to make any major stylistic shifts, or tried too hard to ride the modern pop wave with insincere lyrical content or Nicki Minaj guest raps. And, perhaps more importantly, their new record has brevity on its side – at a lean nine tracks, a quick, across-the-board winner would perhaps be ideal, but even at the inconsequential level that Bell and Clarke seem to be operating at, Tomorrow’s World comes and goes swiftly and inoffensively. Erasure’s glory days may be behind them, but they’re far from a creaky novelty act at this point. Tomorrow’s World is largely undistinguished, but if we get one song like “When I Start To (Break It All Down)” per record at this point, well, that’s one more great Erasure song in the world.
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