Another ‘Best Of’, another chance to appreciate the 30-year Bell/Clarke legacy all over again
The story goes that 30 years ago, on 23 March 1985, a shy young singer and Judy Garland fan called Andy Bell auditioned to be part of a new, as-yet-unnamed Vince Clarke musical project. By then Clarke had quit one band (Depeche Mode), dissolved his second (Yazoo), set up a mostly-overlooked label (Reset) and started a series of one-off singles that delivered as many misfires as it did hits before he axed that as well. For Bell, the opportunity to audition had an element of risk about it given Clarke’s limited recent success.
But sometimes things just have a habit of working out. In Bell, the 36th singer that Clarke had seen that fateful day, he found a partner who was able to take the limelight and let him get on with what he had always done best: writing electronic music with some of the most simple, arresting melodies in the business. Meanwhile, Bell brought a sense of soul, drama and showmanship to a collaboration that has lasted to this day.
After sloughing off the poor reception to their debut long-player, Clarke and Bell hit their stride with the understated hit ‘Sometimes’ and saw that success continue largely unhindered through a quartet of albums – ‘The Circus’ (1987), ‘The Innocents’ (1988), ‘Wild!’ (1989) and Clarke’s analogue renaissance, the wonder-filled ‘Chorus’ (1991).
Despite scoring their only UK Number One single with the ‘ABBA-esque’ EP in 1992, Erasure’s success suddenly foundered. ‘Always’, from 1993’s Martyn Ware-produced ‘I Say I Say I Say’, and the track that gives this career-spanning compilation its name, felt for a while like the pinnacle of their success. After that, it seemed as if Erasure had become a fan’s band and a mere pop footnote.
A brisk climb up Peter Gabriel’s ‘Solsbury Hill’ for the career-reinvigorating 2003 covers album, ‘Other People’s Songs’, acted as a springboard for reminding the listening public that Vince and Andy were still alive, well and just as capable of bashing out pop gems as they ever were. Fast forward and 2014’s slick ‘The Violet Flame’ showed them to be in rude health on the cusp of their fourth decade.
For this compilation, there’s an inevitable weighting toward their early period successes and recent returns to form barely get a look-in. The release is rounded out with two discs of remixes you’ve probably already heard – at least it will save you from having to dust off the vinyl originals – along with a largely pointless new version of ‘Sometimes’, but such is life with one-size-fits-no-one collections.
‘Always – The Very Best Of Erasure’ apparently presages a whole host of 30th anniversary remasters, events and as-yet unannounced happenings. Unless you’re a die-hard fan with money to burn, you don’t need any of that, or even this collection. Just listen to the timeless wonders of ‘A Little Respect’, ‘Stop!’, ‘Chorus’, ‘Sometimes’, or countless others from the Erasure back catalogue not surveyed here and you’ll be pleasantly reminded of this unlikely duo’s enduring status as synthpop royalty.