24
Aug 11

ERASURE – ABBA-Esque EP

Popular62 comments • 4,436 views

#677, 13th June 1992

I’ve always found it hard to get a handle on Erasure. I end up filing them in the same headspace as ELO: remarkably successful, remarkably long-lived pop craftsmen who are generally – as here – enjoyable but only very rarely hit any sort of emotional or even conceptual payday. After playing all four ABBA-esque covers I couldn’t help myself: I cued up the Pet Shop Boys’ “Where The Streets Have No Name / Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You” medley and had forgotten anything I might have liked about Erasure within ten seconds.

But they were never a poor man’s PSBs – there was something intriguingly different about Erasure, the way their two halves never quite gelled: Vince Clarke’s sleek, tidy, heads-down synthpop and Andy Bell’s roaming, reaching vocals. On their best singles the clash was productive – a track like “Drama” seems lopsided and unwieldy but it absolutely works: both men are fizzing and they end up going in the same direction. More often the potential was missed: on their worse tracks one or the other seemed bored.

The problem with ABBA-esque is that they both seem scared to cut loose and play to their strengths instead of the songs. Bell is subdued, in the shadow of Frida and Agnetha’s pristine takes. Clarke fiddles around at the edges of the tracks but only on “Voulez-Vous” shows much sign of wanting to strip them down and refit them. The whole project roars to life exactly once, when MC Kinky takes over for thirty delightful, crass seconds in the middle of “Take A Chance On Me” and shows the song a little creative disrespect at last.

The “Take A Chance” video, on the other hand, caught the tone of the next several years of ABBA revivalism: wigs out, tunes ahoy, kitsch as you like. Like most great pop bands ABBA fitted their time so well that they were utterly vulnerable to shifts and revisions in the meaning of that time. This was the high point, the crossover moment, in a long-building rehabilitation of the 70s, an acknowledgement that if it was (as The Face sniffed) “the decade that taste forgot”, maybe forgetting taste was a pretty smart idea? The 70s were proudly naff, therefore ABBA were proudly naff. I’m not against that – it opened up the space for the other sides of them to be remembered, and it’s quite possible that without the Bjorn Again-Erasure-Gold domino topple I wouldn’t love them so much now.

But this EP seems overshadowed by the rediscovery it helped spark – Erasure’s versions, zesty at the time, simply don’t touch the originals on any level. The songs are terrific, of course, and the record is in a different world of care and effort than a KWS. But if a singer as florid as Andy Bell can’t have fun with “Lay All Your Love On Me” then somewhere an opportunity is being missed.

5

Comments

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  1. 51
    hardtogethits on 25 Aug 2011 #

    #47, glad my memory wasn’t playing tricks on me wrt Voulez Vous (#26).

    #32. Radio 1 had an ‘A’ list and a ‘B’ list for records in heavy rotation. It ‘A’ listed “Lay All Your Love On Me”, and none of the others, so really the other tracks would have been played once or twice in a week, maximum.

    Other ILR stations (+ Capital) were generally the same, though there may have been regional preferences for the others. I couldn’t pretend to know what Radio 1 played on the chart show, other than in the year end Top 40, when they played Take A Chance On Me.

    I’m aware this is of fairly little importance in the scheme of things, but a friend recently advised me that her desire to learn a simple, single fact about an old no.1 single had led her to google, and google had led her to freakytrigger … and whilst she thought it had been “a hoot”, wading through the “opinonated and strong-willed”, she still didn’t have an answer to her question.

  2. 52

    WE DON’T DO FACTS!

  3. 53
    weej on 26 Aug 2011 #

    #51 Ah, perhaps I shouldn’t rely on my memories so much. Not surprised your friend was unable to find what she wanted – generally the discussion seems to move away from the song itself fairly quickly, that’s what makes it such fun to read.

  4. 54
    Mark M on 26 Aug 2011 #

    In the summer of 1992 I pitched a feature on the latest 1970s revival to the IoS, with the ABBA revival being at the heart of it. They commissioned and then spiked it, which was fair enough since it was almost very poor (all I remember is desperately trying to get stallholders in Camden Market to say something interesting!). But there certainly seemed to be something broader afoot in the perception of the 1970s versus the 1980s, which (at that point) a fair number of people seemed fairly eager to put behind them (the 1992 election result notwithstanding).

  5. 55
    Ed on 29 Aug 2011 #

    @54 That sounds like the IoS displaying all of the editorial acumen that has made it the force in the British newspaper market it is today. Under the Twenty Year Rule, the seventies revival was nailed on.

    As well as Abba, we had grunge, of course, where Nirvana = Black Sabbath and Pearl Jam = Grand Funk Railroad. And then Britpop, where Suede = Bowie, Pulp = Roxy, and Oasis = Slade. Damon Albarn is a very Bowie-like figure, too.

  6. 56
    Rory on 30 Aug 2011 #

    Erasure were one of those bands that half the English students around me in 1992 seemed to love, but which I really didn’t get; they just seemed too distant from my old Oz-rock leanings or my nascent indie-alternative ones. This EP hit number one at the end of my studies that year, and it felt like a sign that UK pop was heading off in its own direction without me after those few brief months we had in common. Within a month I was picking up a very different pop landmark in Tower Records in Atlanta, Matthew Sweet’s Girlfriend, which was much more a sign of where I was headed.

    So how does this music strike me now? Not too bad, but the rap in “Take a Chance on Me” does nothing for me, and cancels out some of the more intriguing elements here. The intro of “Voulez Vous” is my highlight; but with that and all the other tracks, I’m just left wanting to hear the originals. Fortunately, I picked up every last ABBA album after Popular rekindled my interest a few years ago, so I can.

    5, because the songs are so strong and the performances are sufficient.

  7. 57
    stebags on 24 Jun 2012 #

    I remember The Chart Show playing the videos to all 4 tracks pre/post release.
    SOS was my pick at the time but Voulez Vous overtook it eventually (as I made my own dance up to it)

  8. 58
    wichita lineman on 22 Dec 2012 #

    David Davies’ handle on Erasure:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/dec/21/david-davies-gay-marriage-interview

  9. 59
    DanH on 7 Jan 2014 #

    No one’s mentioned “Chains of Love” yet…was it only a hit here in the States?

  10. 60
    Mark G on 7 Jan 2014 #

    It made number 11, but they had a bunch of “Of” songs, don’t recall this one as much as “Victim/Love” or “Ship/Fools”

  11. 61
    DanH on 8 Jan 2014 #

    I had thought “Chains of Love” was their only U.S. hit for the longest time (it was their highest charter, at #12). Then a few retail places started playing “Always” a lot a few years back. That one made #20, and now I see “A Little Respect” made #14. So, more than I thought.

  12. 62
    Nixon on 28 Sep 2014 #

    A night of Robot Unicorn Attack and a skim of the new album brought me here again :)

    Just a tiny aside to Punctum #4 (I didn’t see this the first time round) – subtitling one’s career retrospective “The First 20 Hits” might *sound* like ill-advised hubris, but in fact in Erasure’s case it turned out to be entirely accurate. Fanbase dedication (and size) was enough for them to keep piling up decent-sized UK chart hits throughout the 90s and 00s, almost none of which made any impression on me personally (they had a top five hit in 2005 with “Breathe”, which turns out to be quite pretty but still, buh? But there they all are in print), and they seem to have kept on quietly doing it under the radar, until the download era killed the streak; they still had enough to release “The Second 20 Hits” in 2009.

    (Although, granted, the combined omnibus edition being called “The First 40 Hits” now feels silly.)

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