Album Reviews

Erasure – Total Pop! The First 40 Hits

(Mute) UK release date: 23 February 2009

Erasure - Total Pop! The First 40 Hits It’s sometimes easy to forget just how many records Vince Clarke and Andy Bell, aka Erasure, have sold during their 24-year career. Not many artists can release a double disc featuring 40 UK hits, most of them very big.

Surely it is time to mention Clarke and Bell in the same breath as the Pet Shop Boys without feeling a little bit dirty. Sure, Bell’s camper than camp image may have coloured some listeners’ perception of Erasure (permanently so in many cases, as this is a band that is hated as much as loved), but even a casual listen to this exhaustive compilation should get even the most die-hard curmudgeon tapping their foot at the very least.

What Erasure deal in is simple pop music and, as we all know, a cracking good tune is very fashionable in this day and age. Melody is writ large all over this double CD in as gaudy a fashion as the deliciously tacky cover art.

Following the sub-Yazoo electro-pop meanderings of Who Needs Love Like That and Heavenly Action, the duo’s first two singles, Clarke and Bell really hit their stride in the late ’80s.

Reel them off. Oh L’Amour, Sometimes, Victim Of Love, The Circus, A Little Respect… songs that positively reek of the ’80s and bring a guilty smile to even the most reluctant child of the time. Erasure probably never bettered Sometimes, the fantastic circus ride of a single that broke them into the UK Top 3 in 1986. It is one of the most stately electro-pop tracks ever to grace our charts.

In terms of commercial status, Clarke and Bell went one better when they hit upon the idea that an EP of Abba cover versions would be a really good wheeze. Of course this was pre-Mamma Mia!, when the Swedish popsters were still treated with some disdain by certain areas of the music press.

Unfortunately only the hi-NRG reworking of Take A Chance On Me shows its face here, complete with the very dated ragga rap from MC Kinky. Still, the song was all over the radio in 1992. But is a shame that their glorious cover of Lay All You Love On Me couldn’t have been sneaked on to this compilation.

Clarke and Bell followed up their Abba excursion with the fantastic synth-pop ballad Always, a UK Top 5/US Top 20 hit in 1994. But from this point onwards their chart presence began to fade.

Partly this was down to a run of less than memorable singles as the band’s natural shelf life began to wear thin, and partly down to changing musical fashions. They tried the covers route again at the turn of the new millennium, and returned to the Top 10 for the first time in six years with a pumped up version of Peter Gabriel‘s Solsbury Hill.

Clarke and Bell’s last two singles have not even made the Top 20, which gives some indication where their commercial stock currently lies – at a time where you only have to sell something like a 100 copies to reach the Top 10.

Still, this compilation is sure to do big business with the retro bunnies and serves as a useful update of previous hit packages. And it also serves a purpose in reminding us that: a) Vince Clarke is one of the most underrated musicians/songwriters of the last 20 years; b) Andy Bell is actually a decent singer; c) all these hits were given to us by a then independent label, Mute. Half a star docked though for including a pointless remix of Always.

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Erasure’s Vince Clarke: “A song that you’ll remember in 10 years’ time is a song that you remember the chorus to” – Interview