As extreme makeovers go, Erasure‘s Union Street is right up there with Michael Douglas’s anti-ageing regime, Michael Jackson‘s colour change and Gordon Brown’s new smile.
Vince Clarke and Andy Bell have been having hits for more than 20 years as a shamelessly electropop act (ashamed of what, pray?), but on this repackaging of album and B-side tracks plundered from their stellar career, their instruments include slide and acoustic guitars. Erasure have gone… a bit country.
This twangly-jangly trip down memory lane takes 11 of the duo’s lesser-known songs and reworks them into an unexpectedly convincing acoustic format. Recorded by guitarist Steve Walsh, who produced their last studio album Nightbird, the album is titled after his Brooklyn studio. Laid down before Andy Bell’s foray into the world of the solo artist album with Electric Blue, Union Street’s stated aim is to showcase an oft-overlooked fact.
Erasure are rightly and regularly placed among the top 10 of electronic music artists, but here without the synthpop trimmings Vince and Andy’s songwriting stands up to be counted in its own right. It should be noted also that Clarke’s chord sequences have long been written on guitar before being transcribed onto synths. It it’s way, therefore, Union Street is a little like coming full circle. If the intention was to restate Erasure’s songwriting qualities, it manifestly succeeds.
Bell, for his part, has never sounded more emotive or vocally powerful. His voice has always been instantly recognisable, soaring to falsetto here and rumbling to the bottom of his register there. But in these arrangements, by staying largely in the middle register, his intonations are highlighted, giving new expression to the words. The single Boy and Love Affair both deal with the aftermath of ruined relationships poignantly, while his stark duet with guitar on How Many Times, originally released on the Wild! album, will likely prove showstopping in a live context.
Amongst the unexpected suddenly-gems are the reclaimed B-side of Run To The Sun, Tenderest Moments – even if, at over five minutes, it’s a tad too long. Elsewhere though there are overblown moments – Love Affair’s strings arrangement sounds like a construct, while closer Rock Me Gently’s choir backing won’t be to everyone’s taste.
Clarke and Bell have already released a hits compilation, so Union Street feels like that album’s B-side. There’s no Sometimes or Ship Of Fools here, but if you’ve long appreciated Erasure’s ability with melody and fancied hearing them while cuddled up in your bedroom instead of bouncing about in a club, Union Street is tantalising.