Everyone loves a gritty reboot. Erasure are the hero that synth-pop deserves, but are they the one that it needs right now?
For a while now, synths and eye-liner have been cool again. Amid all the buzz around the likes of Chvrches, Prides and Future Islands, one of the veterans, the 80’s dance-chart behemoths, has stealthily released a new album. But hold the montage music, this isn’t a comeback. Erasure have been diligently chipping away all this time, with only a couple of cheeky “Best of Greatest Remastered Hits: The Early Years” style cash-in albums among the new releases. There is definitely credit due for a duo who have kept up an output of new material for that length of time, even if some of the Noughties stuff was pretty average. I was, in all honesty, expecting The Violet Flame to sound like it was trapped in the 1980’s, but this was a bit different. Yes, it would have sounded absolutely banging on the tape deck of an ‘87 Quattro. It also sounded just fine coming straight to my ears via the hashtag-strewn airwaves of 2014.
Right from the first bars of excellent opener ‘Dead Of Night’, the old-school spacelord synths are still there, but beneath the satisfying whooshes lie some darker undertones, and these resurface throughout the album from time to time, providing a sort of German industrial feel without going full Techno Viking. First single ‘Elevation’ is a superbly produced pop song that shows that the London duo still have an ear for current chart sensibilities, and you sort of suspect that if they turned their minds to it, and brought in the right name-drop of a collaborating vocalist, say an Ella Eyre or a John Legend, they could score a major hit.
The majority of these tracks have that elusive “instantly listenable” quality that good pop producers can infuse their music with, but they still feel…proper. Catchy, but without the blunt-instrument force of the Guetta and Harris chart banger juggernauts, coming in with a nice hook or two, taking a bit of time to play with layers. And what layers. Shrek would truly be proud, as the likes of ‘Paradise’ have moments of similarity to modern greats such as Chvrches’ ‘Under The Tide’ or The Knife’s ‘Silent Shout’.
However, for every yin there must be a yang. In this case, ‘Be The One’ is the culprit. To continue the Batman analogy, if the best of this album is the Dark Knight trilogy, this awkward ballad is straight from the unfortunate 1990s “weirdly prominent nipples” phase of the Caped Crusader filmography. It has lyrics that Phil Collins might reject for being too cliché and lacks the energy of the previous songs, but thankfully this doesn’t set a tone for the second half. One or two more tunes do lack a bit of momentum but it is hastily regained. Overall this is a timely reminder from a band who made fun danceable music in their heyday, and it mostly succeeds in taking some retro sounds and bringing them up to date. The conclusion? There has been a changing of the guard, and although Lauren Mayberry and Co. may be the new guardians of the genre, Erasure could make a brilliant Alfred, dual cockney father figures guiding a new generation of Korg-wielding heroes forward in the noble pursuit of glorious synth-pop perfection.