I’m not going to play coy here: Erasure’s new album, The Neon, is the legendary synth-pop duo’s best since 1989’s Wild! and has some of the catchiest hooks since 1988’s earth-shattering The Innocents. The album is out Friday, Aug. 21, via Mute.
It’s extraordinarily easy for veteran acts to rest on their laurels and churn out the same paint-by-numbers records time and time again. Or, worse, they sometimes try to tackle contemporary styles or slap on a few modern flourishes to try to avoid seeming out of touch. It often seems as if half of my inbox contains pitches from PR reps for 1980s acts with songs that trend in this direction. They end up with work that satisfies neither existing or potential fans and which probably doesn’t really mean much to the artists themselves.
Not so for England-based singer/songwriter Andy Bell and Brooklyn-based synthesist/songwriter Vince Clarke, especially on 10-track gem The Neon, the follow up to 2017’s World Be Gone. They pull off channeling their biggest hits — including the likes of “A Little Respect,” “Chains of Love,” and “Victim of Love” — while weaving in some newer production values, and all without losing sight of the storytelling and artistry for which they’ve been known since Clarke left Yazoo and Bell answered his ad for a singer nearly 40 years ago.
The album, the vocals of which Bell recorded in Atlanta, kicks off with a trio of strong and memorable cuts. The propulsive “Hey Now (Think I Got a Feeling)” has the colorfully catchy synth hooks Clarke has spawned since his time in the early stages of Depeche Mode — I can just imagine his infamous synth collection alight with the engaging notes he commands of them. Bell’s effusive vocals are equal parts heartwarming and seductive in their declarations of resilience. What a way to start a record! 2020 isn’t a crapshoot after all.
Following that is “Nerves of Steel,” a robust yet tempered number with a slightly serpentine rhythm section that Bell injects with exciting vivacity on a soaring performance on the chorus. “Fallen Angel” has a pronounced strut to it that’s paired with some fuzzy squawks and ethereal synth runs that coalesce around a triumphant chorus. This might be the melody that sticks in my head the most from this record.
A fat and warm pulsating synth bass powers the cinematic “Tower of Love,” atop which a choir of Bells chant with a sense of foreboding that the synths are more than happy to match. The candy-sweet-sounding “Diamond Lies” skips along tightly as a cascade of synths surround Bell’s poignant performance. “New Horizons” is a touching piano-driven, affirmation ballad, with Bell reassuring the subject not to give up hope, declaring “you’re my love/you’re my savor/you’re my rock in the storm…”
The Neon might not necessarily convert any new listeners, but that’s not the point here. (If it does bring in Erasure newbies, then they’re in for an rewarding experience.) What’s key, though, is that Bell and Clarke have stayed true to the principles that have guided their project since 1985 and haven’t fallen prey to any pressures to rely on the handrail of templates or try to be something their not. They’re Erasure and they’re fucking fantastic.
The Neon is out Friday, Aug. 21, on Mute and is released digitally and on standard and deluxe limited editions of vinyl, CD, and cassette. Get it here and get it now.