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In a setting perhaps better suited to the creation of last year's critically-acclaimed acoustic Union Street project, Vince Clarke, Andy Bell and producer Gareth Jones (Depeche Mode, Wire, Clinic, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds) spent six weeks last autumn recording the songs that comprise the new CD Light At The End Of The World. The most recent release in an incredibly fertile and prolific period, Light At the End Of World proves Erasure's creative vitality, musical influence and cultural relevance is just nearing its peak more than twenty years and twenty million albums into their historic collaboration.
Heralded by the relentlessly up-tempo single 'I Could Fall In love With You', the song writing process for the ten-track Light At The End Of The World benefited from the organic surroundings in unexpected ways. Bell's lyrics are some of the most intensely personal of his career - true mediations on love, loss, regret, hope and starting over. Exciting and dramatic throughout, even in the quieter moments as on 'Darlene' and 'Glass Angel,' his voice soars on a bed of Clarke's pulsing and irresistibly melodic synths on virtually every verse and chorus, many of which are arranged quite traditionally despite the high-tech software employed to construct them.
The writing process for Light At The End Of The World was disciplined, beginning over the internet, with Clarke and Bell exchanging ideas via email, in two separate Maine song writing sessions last summer and ending with Bell writing and revising in the studio as the tracks were assembled daily by Clarke and Jones. Much had changed in their personal lives, Clarke was now married with an infant son and living in Maine while Bell had been navigating his way through the heart-wrenching break-up of a relationship of nearly two decades. Nevertheless, the song writing process that had brought them more than thirty Top 40 singles and eleven Top 20 albums, including five Number 1s, remained the same.
Vince explains it this way:
"Doing all our albums, me and Andy get together in a room with an analogue micro-cassette tape recorder," he says. "We have no melodic ideas, nothing, when we go in that room, which is the most amazing thing about it. I'll play guitar or piano - a selection of chords I think sound interesting. And Andy will sing a melody over the collection of chords. We'll do this for four chords, or eight bars. Then we'll have a melodic idea with a chord change, another short section, then the next collection of chords. There will be four or five parts like this that we record onto the tape recorder. Then we'll listen back and choose the bits we like for the chorus, say, and piece it together."
The process reveals itself immediately on the album opener 'Sunday Girl' where the simplicity of the lyrics and melody are merged to a swirl of electronics with stunning effect. Beginning with a processed, 'ghost-in-the-machine' vocal bit that literally revs the track, and the album, up into a full blown, other-worldly synth riff and hooky Brill Building-style chorus, the song twists and turns, dramatically underscoring the musical and emotional journey that is about to unfold. Likewise 'Sucker For Love'.
Says Andy, "...quite a few of the songs start off in a lower key than when they're finished and 'Sucker for Love' was one of those. It was quite low and quite Gospel-y, but as we're working on a song, we change the keys, change the tempos, just to make it as exciting as possible. I think that's kind of in the same vein as 'Sunday Girl', really. It's like a really up-tempo dance song, which you're not quite sure where it fits in, but I think it's one of the strongest songs."
Track after track, from the hopeful 'Golden Heart' to the regretful 'Fly Away', the songs are matched beautifully to the emotional sonic backdrops that rise and fall on Bell's breathy and assured vocals. 'When A Lover Leaves You', the penultimate track, perhaps best sums up spirit of the entire album. With Bell torn between two lovers, yearning for the one, and worried for the other, Clarke devises a gorgeous synth-pop samba to ease the pain. 'Dance away the heartache,' to coin a phrase, indeed. Classic Erasure.
Unfazed by their iconic reputation among such chart-topping devotees as The Killers, Franz Ferdinand and Madonna and having eclipsed, according to The Times, no less than Kraftwerk in influence among today's hit makers, Erasure left their reputation as one of the Top 100 Most Successful Acts Of All Time at the studio door and proceeded to make one of their most heartfelt and mature albums ever. And as ever, have turned out a collection that is one of the few places where punk, electronica and disco can still co-exist naturally.
Owing a tip of the hat as much to Simon & Garfunkel as their electronic forebears, Light At The End of World is as magical and spiritual as its title suggests. A snapshot, both musically and lyrically, of Clarke and Bell at this moment, proud of their legacy but unafraid to take chances, still growing as artists but true to their electronic roots, and still greeting the ups and downs of life with a song.
"This album is to show people that our pop isn't finished," Andy declares. "It's saying we can still do it, we can still write great songs," he adds, trying to pinpoint Erasure's appeal. "We're a bizarre mixture - people don't get it a lot of the time. We're quite British and working class - working people love a good tune in a pub - but we're also quite eccentric. We're the UK version of Sparks: the Gilbert & George of electronic pop. And we don't play the game."