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Erasure - Other People's Songs

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Artist: Erasure

Album: Other People's Songs

Label: Mute

Review date: Mar. 2, 2003

Erasing The Past With The Past

Blame it on post-millennial malaise or the spawning of a new generation of semi-synth pop outfits that rendered the old guard passé, but in 2000, Erasure released Love Boat and not only did Americans not give a shit (we rarely did, except for those few years in the mid-to-late ‘80s), but England also turned its back. Love Boat achieved the lowest rank on the U.K. pop charts since their first release, Wonderland made it to #75. Vince Clarke and Andy Bell must have asked themselves: ‘Bloody hell, maybe we should go back to covering Abba songs?’ (In 1992, Erasure scored their only #1 single with a rendition of Abba’s “Take A Chance On Me.”) Avoiding the Abba temptation, they wisely chose to cover a much broader array of early American rock & roll classics along with a few obscure songs like the Korgis’ “Everybody’s Got To Learn Sometime.”

Originally an Andy Bell side project, Other People’s Songs focuses on selections Bell felt his “parents would enjoy.” The Righteous Brothers, The Ronettes, Elvis and Buddy Holly are the original authors of half the album’s tracks. Minus Peter Gabriel’s “Solsbury Hill” (already a top 10 hit in England) Clarke chooses to honor more obscure artists like Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel. Regardless of the impetus behind the covers they chose, Bell, Clark and longtime producer Gareth Jones combine to compliment one another’s visions.

Elvis Presley’s “Can’t Help Falling In Love” (Bell’s choice) is one of the best tracks on the album. Backed by an angelic chorus of cooing gospel voices, Bell soars on the back of one of Clarke’s more effective combinations of deep bass and drifting keyboard washes. On “You’ve Lost That Lovin Feeling” Bell dips an octave, transforming his high-pitched yelp into a burly growl that captures the blue-eyed soul essence of Bill Medley and Bobby Hatfield perfectly. If only Clarke’s twitchy instrumental backing weren’t so painfully modern. The arrangements contrast to the songs’ original vintage charm is jarring. On “Walking In The Rain,” Clarke again assumes artistic license. This time he succeeds in crafting an ever-fashionable two-step backdrop that leads this former Ronette’s hit on the dance floor to strut like Erasure has never strut before.

The true delight of the album is listening to Clarke and Jones’ arrangements unfold. It’s clear from the beginning that Bell can handle the vocal chores but what remains questionable is Clarke’s ability to rescue his beats from the predictable morass of synth pop’s stodgy past without, of course, overdoing it. The verdict remains in question throughout but by the end of the album you’re willing to concede that Clarke’s re-imagining of these bygone classics through a cataract of ‘80s new wave nostalgia is, uh, good.

Other People’s Songs revives the image of Erasure as synth pop icons. It’s a portrait of two dance floor denizens – a resolute beat master and his crooning partner – as they make a near final bid for immortality. Although an Erasure release will never again bring gay bar dance floors to the brink of erotic overload, Other People’s Songs proves that Erasure may not have to resort to hedonistic bump ‘n’ grind antics to remain vital. All they need is their convictions and the requisite licenses to produce another album of other people’s songs.

By John Yandrasits

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