CD Review of Light at the End of the World by Erasure

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Light at the End of the World
starstarstarno starno star Label: Mute
Released: 2007
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Though it’s been almost two and a half years since the last proper Erasure album, after listening to the contents of Light at the End of the World, it might as well have been yesterday. It’s as if the duo decided to pull a Bobby Ewing, casually lathering up in the shower – there’s an image for you, eh? – while assuring us that the Union Street record and On the Road to Nashville DVD were just a dream.

But let us pause for a moment. We’re perhaps not providing enough information by simply referencing the titles of the items released by Andy Bell and Vince Clarke during the interim since the band’s 2005 album, Nightbird. This is, after all, a band with a profile so low in America that one generally has to namedrop the titles of 19-year-old songs like “Chains of Love” and “A Little Respect” to provide assurance that, yes, okay, that is actually the same Erasure you thought we were talking about. As such, the diehard fans of the band who are loitering amongst the Bullz-Eye readership will hopefully not begrudge us if we offer a few explanatory lines.

In 2006, Bell and Clarke decided to do something a bit off the wall for a band renowned for its synthesizer-based sound: they went acoustic. First came the Union Street album, where they presented album tracks stretching 1987’s The Circus all the way up to 2000’s Loveboat, “re-interpreted in an acoustic or country & western style” (or so it was described by the album’s press release). Then came the DVD, On the Road to Nashville, where the band took the stage at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium and performed nicely twanged-up, countrified versions of their best singles and album tracks, this time stretching back to ‘86’s Wonderland and all the way up to the aforementioned Nightbird. Somewhere in the middle, they even released an additional limited-edition live CD via Mute, entitled Live Acoustic.

So why is it that Light at the End of the World bears absolutely no trace of any “proper” instruments?

Don’t get us wrong: this is a fine Erasure album, as Erasure albums go. If you’re a fan of the band’s back catalog, you will be as giddy as a schoolgirl…possibly literally. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) Once again, Vince Clarke has provided a flurry of synth-driven dance pop that allows Andy Bell to sing his little heart out and shake his bottom accordingly, and it will undoubtedly inspire longtime fans of the duo to do likewise. Nonetheless, after these fascinating side excursions by the group which allowed Clarke to show off his musicianship and Bell to venture into different vocal styles, it’s severely disheartening to have this disc make absolutely no attempt to incorporate any of that into the proceedings.

Not that the band ever pretends otherwise. “Sunday Girl” starts the show with an icy keyboard riff, bounces into its verse, then provides the sort of sing-along chorus that Clarke seems capable of writing in his sleep; it’s followed by first single “I Could Fall in Love,” which begins with Bell visiting his lower register, then soaring higher as the song zooms into its chorus. Other future synth-pop classics include the pulsating “Sucker for Love,” the slightly dark “Storm in a Teacup,” and the über-bouncy “Golden Heart,” along with the sweetly sad closer, “When a Lover Leaves You.”

Still, as that last song fades, we must return to the fact that Light at the End of the World sounds like just another Erasure album, and given that our hopes were high that we’d find the group following its recent inspiration to the next stage of their musical evolution, it’s disappointing that this Light has turned out to be less a path to Heaven and more of an oncoming train.

~Will Harris