30 Days: 30 Albums | Erasure – Cowboy

30-days-30-albums-headerThe other day, I revisited a member of Depeche Mode, who used to be a core collection band in my Record Cell, 20 years ago. I was not too moved by what I had heard. How would I fare with another ex-DM member’s work? I followed Vince Clarke to Yaz[oo] but only bought the first album. I ignored Erasure for years after hearing them from the get-go. It just seemed that Clarke had found the singer that came closest to approximating Alison Moyet, really. I demurred. < insert four year gap> An encounter with “Wild” playing in-store on its release served to really catch me off guard, and I went off on an Erasure tear that saw me buying everything by them up to the first pair of CD singles from the “I Say I Say I Say” album. Then the dreaded “dull soulless dance music” remix syndrome reared its ugly head and I went off Erasure rather than spend big money on remixes that were not giving me any pleasure. I honestly had not heard a note Erasure had recorded in 19 years. Moreover, I had read that fan scuttlebutt was none too happy with the band’s output in the years I had ignored them.

Warner Brothers Records | US | CD | 1997 | 9 46631-2

Warner Brothers Records | US | CD | 1997 | 9 46631-2

# 21 • Erasure: Cowboy US CD [1997]

  1. Rain
  2. Worlds On Fire
  3. Reach Out
  4. In My Arms
  5. Don’t Say Your Love Is Killing Me
  6. Precious
  7. Treasure
  8. Boy
  9. How Can I Say
  10. Save Me Darling
  11. Love Affair
  12. Rapture
  13. Magic Moments

I may have been primed to hear this album by Andy Bell’s star turn on the recent B.E.F. album. I loved his take on Kate Bush’s “Breathing” quite a lot. I popped the disc in and was taken by surprise by how much I enjoyed “Rain.” The production by Gareth Jones was clean and uncluttered, with sonic room for lots of the detail tucked away in the nooks and crannies of Clarke’s arrangements to come shining through. What I heard was very appealing, but even Gahan had caught my ear initially. It’s the measure of a professional to maintain and even enhance that appeal.

“Worlds On Fire” was based on the tiresome 90s shuffle beat, and honestly, has there ever been a song that used it that I thought was great? No. That was easy. Even so, the melody of this number was dramatically surmounting the banality of the rhythm used, and Bell’s superb vocals weren’t chopped liver either. By the time that this number was fading out, I was totally into the melodic hook and it ran circles through my head even as I was actively listening to the album.

The complexion of this album was far from the sometimes campy Erasure attack of the past. Bell’s vocals and lyrics were suffused with an appealing dignity and Clarke just ran with the arrangements and didn’t look back. The appearance of an ondioline solo in the middle eight of “Don’t Say You Love Is Killing Me” served to warm the cockles of my heart. At first I thought I was hearing a kazoo, until the distinctive tremolo of the early synthesizer was spotted, recognized and warmly embraced.

The album is consistently delightful throughout with ballads and spirited but dignified pop songs jostling for dominance with both styles coming to a draw. And that makes the album work like a fiend for me. The US edition that I have is appended with a pair of cover tunes; Erasure’s take on Blondie’s “Rapture” and that anthem of fresh-faced teenagers everywhere, “Magic Moments.” I liked the cover of “Rapture;” not my favorite Blondie song in any case. I have to admit, that I was wondering, would Andy perform the rap section of the song? I was completely blown out of the water when it transpired that Vince Clarke himself deadpanned the rap portions for a golden opportunity seized and held triumphantly to the world to gape in astonishment!

The sprightly cover of the primeval Bacharach and David pop hit “Magic Moments” was treated with dignity but the songs native campiness is perhaps inherent in Bacharach’s callow melody; one of his early works before he started pushing the melodic envelope and letting his freak flag fly with impunity. Still, it fits in with some of the attractive ballads on this record more than the left field moment that “Rapture,” for all its astonishment, fails to achieve.

What I’m left with is what is now my second favorite ever Erasure album following “Wild!” I still think that “You Surround Me” can’t be topped, but this is a really attractive batch of songs performed exceedingly well. So well, it has me wondering what the other Erasure albums I have not heard sound like. There are still seven canonical albums to explore.

CONCLUSION: enjoy… a lot

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11 Responses to 30 Days: 30 Albums | Erasure – Cowboy

  1. Echorich says:

    Someday I will “get” Erasure. I listen to them and usually feel nothing. The camp and bubbly pop of the early tunes just never reached me. I’m a sucker for camp normally, but it might have been Bell’s vocals, or my love of Vince Clarke when he is darker and moodier that caused me to set Erasure aside. Someday I’m sure I will come to discover what is good about the band, someday.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Echorich – At first I just thought to myself “more gay disco pop – yawn” and the fact that Bell sounded so close to Moyet rubbed me the wrong way. But I liked “Wild!” so much on that in-store play that I bought it right there. The only time that ever happened! The fact that I never loved the first DM album, also colored my disdain.

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  2. I have stayed (more or less) with the band all these years but am not an obsessive collector. The 1994 album I Say I Say I Say was a hit-and-mostly-miss and altogether more … calm affair for me when I was used to the previous albums being highly energetic and and enjoyable, so I drifted away for a bit. I always enjoyed Andy Bell’s voice, however, so even the misses weren’t bad, just not scratching the itch. I liked “Run to the Sun” and “Always” and really, the rest was kind of a wash. It was disappointing to see a band I liked fall back to the “mostly filler and a few hits” workflow.

    Erasure (1995) is every bit as bad as the cover would suggest. While I issue them some credit for trying to get away from the three-minute pop song form factor, they’re a pop band. Don’t get all deep on me man! This was mostly three-minute pop songs just really stretched out. As always, there’s a few redeemable tracks — actually more than on I Say Cubed. “Rock Me Gently” is the band’s most Martin Gore-esque moment ever, but there’s a handful of good tracks here too.

    Suffice to say I agree with your comments on Cowboy, a sadly-neglected return to form for the boys. When I have a moment more I’ll pass on my spoiler-free thoughts on the post-97 albums.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – Yeah, I must have listened to “I Say I Say I Say” about eight times in the 19 years I’ve had a copy of the DLX 12″ pop-up CD package. I hate to invoke Gertrude Stein, but… And I was never convinced with “Chorus” either. Looking back I’d say “The Innocents” and “Wild!” were it. To which I’d add “Cowboy” is the third crucial album by the combo. The latter stretches songwriting muscles that I don’t think Clarke had quite used before, and he’s more than matched by the sophistication that Bell brings to the work.

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  3. So, we’re up to 2000 and Loveboat, or as I like to call it, I Say Cubed Redux. Some gems in there, but not good enough. After a three-year break, they came back with Other People’s Songs, a definite better effort (but, like all cover albums are doomed to be, a flawed effort). Still, getting back to great.

    2005, though, is the year I got back seriously into Erasure, because Nightbird is damn near PERFECT and one of the strongest Erasure albums of all time. If it were up to me, and with the benefit of hindsight, I’d say buy digital copies of the best songs from 1994 to 2000, get OPS and then definitely get Nightbird and pretty much everything after that.

    Following Nightbird, the band made a couple of acoustic albums (one studio, Union Street, and a live record called On the Way to Nashville) that I like a lot, followed in 2007 with their return to dance-oriented music, The Light at the End of the World, not to be confused with the fairly wretched Flock of Seagulls album of the same name. There’s a bit of trendiness (of the time) on LATEOTW, auto-tune and such, but it doesn’t obscure their brilliance too much. Hey man, ENO made an auto-tune record, and this is way better than that.

    Andy Bell put out a couple of solo records, but I haven’t listened to them. Erasure popped up again in 2011 with Tomorrow’s World which I liked but it’s not as good as Nightbird.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – I like your extreme enthusiasm for “Nightbird!” I recognize how it feels to feel strongly about great, unsung work and will set my sights on that one next! I almost saw Erasure on their “Wild!” tour but that’s a painful story. I had tickets and was planning on seeing the show with Doug. But before the concert, a concert by The Primitives in Ratona Beach for some spring break concert thing surfaced at the last minute. I gave Doug my ticket and blew off Erasure. Tom and I were hot on the second Primitives album and got lost trying to find the venue. Bitterly defeated, we headed back to Orlando and I told Tom we should catch Erasure [at the O-rena] to salvage the evening – my treat. But the Erasure show had already started and the Arena would not sell us tickets to a show that had already begun! We slunked home, completely, bitterly defeated! Insult to injury? Doug reported that there was almost no one in the 18,000 seater for the gig. Erasure were slated to play The Orange peel in town and I was going to go for their last tour, but we ended up spending that weekend with Elisa and Tom in Chapel Hill.

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  4. Taffy says:

    Just catching up on your postings, and of course had to state my piece regarding Erasure. I’ve seen them many times live (going back to the Innocents tour) and Andy is always the consummate showman. I get winded just watching him bounce around, sweating profusely but always delivering pristine vocals. Enjoying everything Vince Clarke had done previously, I picked up Wonderland when it came out and actually loved that he found an Alf-soundalike to collaborate with. Never really thought Andy sounded much like her again subsequently. Erasure is such a fab singles act that in my opinion none of their studio albums can stand up against a good compilation, but Cowboy is definitely a return to form after the snoozy, endless Erasure album of ’95. Loveboat kinda sucked too, but I’ve found a lot to enjoy in everything since then.
    By the way, don’t say “gay disco pop” as if it’s a bad thing. :)
    It aint always so!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – If you were to see the Record Cell you’d see a ton of “Gay Disco Pop.” Perhaps too much, because I can sure get burned out on it. Funny story. Around 1999 my wife heard Baxendale’s utterly brilliant “Music For Girls” and thought it suited me to a “T” and bought me the “You Will Have Your Revenge” album. Of course, I loved it!! Actually, I was in awe of it! It’s my favorite album of the 2000-2009 decade. By far. Incredible songwriting. Whatever happened to Baxendale? Tim Benton was a pop genius who effortlessly channelled Neil Tennant and Jarvis Cocker. Bested them at their own game, and at such an early age, too. And finally, yes, Andy Bell stepped out from Alf’s shadow on subsequent Erasure albums. But at first…

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  5. Taffy says:

    Don’t know what happened to Baxendale, but i too have and enjoy their only album (and play Music For Girls once in awhile at a DJ gig). They reminded me of a Divine Comedy (Neil Hannon is another of those brilliant observational Brits) gone electropop (er…gay disco pop!).

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