Amazingly it’s the 21st anniversary of the release of Erasure’s The Innocents, with Phantom Bride re-released as an EP and a remastered album to celebrate.
It’s one of my favourite albums and a high watermark in synth pop – though its release was pretty much the last hurrah for the scene – and its anniversary coincides with a mini series on BBC4 on electronic music.
The Innocents is probably one of the first albums I ever bought and, in that way that early albums do, it really has the ability to take me back to where I was at the time. Like any new album bought in those days, it was listened to again and again.
It’s a class of music that’s always been easy to sneer at, but as is mentioned in the BBC4 documentary Synth Britannia, it’s basically soul music on electronic instruments.
It’s an album stripped of a lot of the outrageous campery, posturing and pretension in similar material in the early half of the decade.
Still, it takes some of the social aspects of Depeche Mode, the pop sensibilities of the Pet Shop Boys and the hot-cold duality of Clarke versus a romantic chanteuse – and in doing so creates something greater than the sum of those parts.
Vince Clarke’s driving beats, clever chord changes and impeccable pop hooks contrast with Andy Bell’s soaring, slightly gospel voice – itself juxtaposed with the bleakness of the lyrics.
It’s all bedsits, heartbreak and unrequited love, but there’s a funny symbiosis between the grim and uplifting in most of the songs.
Hallowed Ground, Ship of Fools and Phantom Bride are as downbeat as pop music ever gets; Witch in the Ditch is a strange off-beat carnivale effort’ but overlooked tunes like Yahoo and Weight of the World are well-crafted sweet little songs that match soulful melodies with synth production.
Chains of Love and A Little Respect mine rich gospel seams to stunning effect, but it’s hard to imagine such songs in the charts these days.
Later Erasure albums failed to recapture the same delicate mix between hope and despair, joy and melancholy, Clarke and Bell – and seemed unbalanced as a result.
Inevitably The Innocents was a product of its time, the album is coated in a grimy late 80s melancholy, but it’s aged extremely well and puts the recent synth revival firmly in its place.
That it’s still relevant and fresh is testament to the quality of a duo so often overlooked in British music. The Innocents isn’t just Erasure’s best, it’s one of the best in the entire genre.