Thirty-two years after the release of Erasure’s debut album “Wonderland,” the veteran British duo is obviously far from finished. Last year came the ambitious, career-spanning box set “From Moscow to Mars,” and now a new studio album, the duo’s 17th, adds to Andy Bell and Vince Clarke’s vast musical legacy.
“World Be Gone” is another twist in a sensational career that continues to roll along with impressive resilience in the notoriously fickle universe of pop music. Erasure’s enduring appeal, even as many artists who emerged from the ‘80s have disappeared or are scraping by on the nostalgia circuit, is easy to understand as the duo continues to churn out one great album after another.
After two ultra-modern and sleek electro-dance albums (2007’s “Light at the End of the World” and 2011’s “Tomorrow’s World”) notable for big arrangements and massive walls of sound, the duo veered in a more retro and stripped-down direction while remaining largely upbeat on 2014’s excellent “The Violet Flame.” “World Be Gone” continues to ignore the latest pop music trends, instead relying on rich and vintage sounding synths and Bell’s sonorous, theatrical vocals, which are often intertwined with deftly arranged, multi-layered background vocals. The mood is more contemplative than anything Erasure has released since 2005’s sadly overlooked “Nightbird,” and while “World Be Gone” might not equal that album’s superb songcraft, it’s certainly a worthy addition to the duo’s catalog.
The album’s opener and first single, “Love You to the Sky,” is a classic Erasure pop anthem, with a sweeping chorus and Andy Bell’s vocals as rich and expressive as ever. After this upbeat opening, though, the album turns inward and reflective. The superb “Be Careful What You Wish For!” is a yearning ballad with an exquisite vocal arrangement, one of the album’s finest moments, and sets the tone for much of what is to come.
The downbeat vibe continues with the weary and haunting title track and the stark break-up ballad “The Bitter Parting,” Bell’s voice taking center stage over Vince Clarke’s spare but lovely electronic accompaniment. Another powerful ballad, the album’s second single “Still It’s Not Over,” is yet another example of the depth of Erasure’s songcraft. Bell’s delivers his vocals with the gravitas and emotional power the song requires.
Perhaps even more impressive is “Take Me Out of Myself,” a wrenchingly personal track with genuine feeling in both Bell’s vocal and Clarke’s sublime retro electronic mastery. “Sweet Summer Loving” is a devotional love song with a lushly beautiful chorus that positively glows with sincerity.
“World Be Gone” closes with “Just a Little Love,” perhaps the brightest and most upbeat pop song on the album. It’s a smart move. The duo knows they’ve delivered a collection of songs that appeal to the heart and the head more than to dancing under flashing lights or singing along in the car, but almost as if to prove they can still deliver a killer pop tune, they unleash “Just a Little Love” as the perfect sendoff. It’s an obvious choice for a single at some point.
While Erasure generally stays within the lines of its melodic template of high energy synth-pop, each album has a distinct vibe and the duo isn’t afraid to allow their creativity to take them in directions fans might not expect. This fearlessness and creativity is the key to their longevity, and is often overlooked. “World Be Gone” has already notched the duo their highest debut on the UK album chart since 1994’s “I Say, I Say, I Say” became their fourth straight chart-topper, which bodes well for the album’s future.
Erasure enjoys a sizable contingent of dedicated fans in the US, but are largely ignored by mainstream radio and most music media. The typical Top 40 radio listener in America (at least those of a certain age) might be familiar with “A Little Respect,” “Chains of Love,” and perhaps “Always,” despite the fact that the duo has enjoyed dozens of international hits. “World Be Gone” isn’t likely to change that, but it deserves to be heard. It’s not an immediately impactful album and there are few obvious pop-friendly hooks, but with repeated listens, its slow and subtle power becomes evident. Sometimes Erasure is dismissed (unfairly) as lightweight; “World Be Gone” is yet another example of how this characterization is utterly and completely wrong.