You have to hand it to Erasure. The path of acrimonious break-up, followed by money-spinning reformation (or, that most undignified of routes for yesterday’s heroes, a spot on ITV’s The Big Reunion) isn’t one for them. Instead, they’ve quietly spent the last 28 years simply creating a solid back catalogue of decent albums, and while The Violet Flame probably won’t herald any chart-bothering return to the glory days of Circus, it’s another example of what they do best.
For The Violet Flame is Vince Clarke and Andy Bell’s 16th studio album together, and their second in under a year following last year’s tepidly received Christmas album Snow Globe. On The Violet Flame, they play it relatively safe, reuniting with Richard X (who also produced Snow Globe), and playing to their strengths – that is to say, reasonably uptempo synth songs with a melancholic edge, all held together by Andy Bell‘s unmistakable vocals.
Bell has described The Violet Flame as a celebratory album about “hope, forgiveness and being given a new chance”, and there’s certainly a feeling of euphoria to a lot of the tracks. Dead Of Night is a strangely slow-burning choice for an opening track, but it’s blessed with a chorus that soon buries its way into your brain. Reason is a far more successful example of what Erasure are all about – blessed with the sort of killer chorus that Clarke can knock off in his sleep – while the unashamedly Euro-trance style of Paradise sees Richard X explicitly paying tribute to Giorgio Moroder in the song’s first few bars.
Away from the dancefloor however, there’s a touch of sadness lurking under the surface. Smoke And Mirrors is probably the darkest track on The Violet Flame, a reflective, brooding ballad which allows Clarke to let rip with all manner of menacing little bleeps and gurgles. It all makes Bell’s heartfelt cry of “I’d give anything to hold you once again” sound, somehow, all the more poignant. Be The One is another step away from the disco, but a less memorable and successful one – that’s an issue throughout the album, with only a handful of tracks being particularly immediate. It’s not necessarily a problem: the album has a lovely, shiny production, especially on tracks like Elevation, and Richard X obviously works very well with Clarke, but there’s not much that stands up to vintage Erasure.
There are enough high points though to please both the hardcore and casual fan – the closing track Should Have Stayed Out Late Tonight is a witty reflection on an unhealthy relationship, with lines like “I just wanted everything to be perfect, but you would call me slightly OCD” being slightly reminiscent of some of Neil Tennant’s more arch lines, while Sacred builds beautifully slowly until exploding into another Euro-trance anthem. Moments like this just make the more anonymous tracks like Be The One and Under The Wave sound all the more frustrating.
Yet Clarke and Bell are long beyond worrying about the next big hit – The Violet Flame is a decent, solid album that will satisfy the faithful, while reminding the rest of the public that they’re still a going concern. Sometimes, for an album, that’s all that’s required.