Vince Clarke’s technical alchemy and Andy Bell’s flamboyant gravity-defying voice. Elegant dance pop mixed with a brilliantly flashy live show. Erasure’s study in opposites has produced a luminescent collection of work that’s sold millions of records in America and around the world. Their broad-based musical appeal has consistently crossed over all radio formats and musical genres for more than a decade, attracting fans of alternative, dance and pop music on both sides of the Atlantic. Uncompromising in their synth-based approach to pop music through the 90’s — despite the grunge dominated U.S. charts — Erasure return to the now electro-friendly pop scene re-energized by a recent signing to Madonna’s Maverick Records, with a brilliant new album, Cowboy, and plans to tour America for the first time in five years.
At just 36, Vince Clarke is undeniably one of the most influential figures in the short history of electronic music. Developing a reputation for hit songwriting first as one of the founding members of Depeche Mode in 1980 and then as one half of the synth duo Yaz in 1982 (formed with a school friend Alison Moyet), Clarke is responsible for many of the definitive electro-pop classics of the era, including “Just Can’t Get Enough,” “Dreaming of Me,” “Situation,” “Only You,” and “Don’t Go” — to name just a few.
Following the demise of Yaz and the short-lived Assembly (a one-off project with Feargal Sharkey), Vince found himself searching for a partner. Through an ad he placed in the UK music press, Clarke auditioned former professional meat mincer Andy Bell and settled on him as the new frontman for a new pop group — Erasure.
Their collaboration was wildly successful from the very first, when singles like “Who Needs Love Like That,” “Heavenly Action” and the joyful, rough-edged “Oh L’Amour” placed the pair in regular rotation on American alternative radio in early days of the format and paved the way for Erasure’s 1986 debut, Wonderland. Defining an enchanted work of high drama dance pop, the disc — and Erasure’s kaleidoscope live show — spawned the group’s first major hit, “Sometimes,” which reached #2 on the U.K. charts.
The Circus following in 1987, was propelled by an American tour with Duran Duran and instant dance classics like “It Doesn’t Have to Be,” “Victim of Love,” and the title track, which was subsequently re-released as a remix of The Two Ring Circus featuring six remixes and three re-recordings of the original LP.
In 1988, The Innocents, replete with some of Erasure’s most assured and finely crafted work, went platinum in the States and sold over a million copies in Britain alone, launching a soulful, fervent hit, “Chains of Love,” the group’s first American Top 40 hit. The band finished the year with their four track EP Crackers International.
Erasure’s 1989 album, Wild, and its singles “Blue Savannah” and “Star,” illustrated the growing strength and diversity of Andy and Vince’s songwriting, pairing chilling ballads with Latin rhythms and bruised electro/psychodrama. Wild also marked the debut of a spectacular new stage show and a record-breaking tour that included the Far East, Japan, Australia, North and South America. 50,000 Argentineans gathered in a Buenos Aires park to watch a video of The Innocents; in New York, Erasure’s Madison Square Garden show sold out in two hours flat.
Chorus, in 1990, opened still new sonic avenues for Erasure, with Andy’s stratospheric vocal range playing counterpoint to Vince’s deliberately synthetic, meticulously structured soundscapes. Abba-Esque, their playful paean to ABBA, was released in 1992 and yielded the hit, “Take a Chance on Me,” which was a #1 U.K. single and one of the first efforts to tap into the growing interest in 70’s nostalgia that was soon to overwhelm pop culture in the U.S.
Erasure’s 1992 Phantasmagorical Entertainment tour kicked off with an unprecedented 15 nights in England’s Manchester Apollo, and with another 15 at Hammersmith Odeon before launching a sold-out U.S. tour, including 13 sold-out shows in New York City and 10 in Los Angeles. Their foray into theatrical extravaganza featured dancers, extra-musical activities such as bingo and ballooning, and a flurry of costume and scenery changes. The combination of Clarke’s near-robotic reserve and the openly gay Bell’s flamboyance on stage proved irresistible, wowing critics and fans alike.
The same year, the band released Pop — the First 20 Hits, the end of an era, so to speak with I Say, I Say, I Say, Clarke and Bell began a new cycle of their stunning partnership, weaving a lavish sonic fantasy that couldn’t have come from any other source. “Always,” the first song released from I Say, I Say, I Say, became Erasure’s most successful U.S. single to date and one of the biggest hits of 1994, according to Billboard’s year-end chart.
For their ninth studio album, Erasure, released in 1995, Vince and Andy were in a more experimental mode, musically and vocally. Featuring guest performances by Diamanda Galas and the London Community Gospel Choir, Clarke and Bell surrounded such lovely ballads as “Stay with Me” with some of the lengthiest instrumental passages they’ve ever recorded, enlisting the expertise of producers Thomas Fehlmann (Orb) and Gareth Jones to realize their musical vision.
Despite its arrival at the very peak of the grunge movement in America, Erasure garnered some the best reviews of the band’s career. A first-ever acoustic performance at the opening of the New York City’s Spy Bar to celebrate the release of the disc was standing room only and proved what fans had known all along — Erasure’s success owed as much to their songs as their beats.
Having weathered the guitar-driven storm of the 90’s Erasure ironically find themselves elder statesman in the “new” musical movement dubbed ‘electronica’ by some US critics. Recently signed to Maverick Records, Clarke and Bell are preparing to release a new single “In My Arms” on March 17 and their eleventh studio album Cowboy on April 22.
Cowboy marks a return to the kind of up-tempo, three-minute dance-pop that has earned Erasure legions of fans worldwide. In addition to the original Clarke/Bell compositions on the disc, the eleven-track Cowboy will also include a cover of the Blondie classic “Rapture” and “Magic Moments,” an Erasure cut originally included on the Lords of Illusion soundtrack. “In My Arms” will be supported by a few special US club performances in March followed by an all-out western-themed theater tour extravaganza in May.