It’s almost thirty years now that Andy Bell and Vince Clarke have been making hit pop songs as Erasure — and after all that time, Bell finally thinks he’s starting to get his musical partner.
“I think I understand more and more now what he’s about,” the English singer tells Atlantic City Weekly. “He’s had ten more years [in the music business] than I have. He won’t read interviews. He won’t see himself on the TV. He hates being in videos. He even hates being on photos. I used to think this was a kind of vanity, but as I go on, you just realize you have to become kind of egoless in some ways — and I think for Vince that’s actually part of it. He doesn’t want to be plastered all over everywhere. I think being a lead singer [I’m] more ego-driven, but Vince is my mentor really — and I think he always will be. I’m glad he’s there. I think I might have made a few more mistakes if he wasn’t.”
American audiences know Erasure, who’ll play the Borgata (and DJ at an afterparty) Friday, as the brightly buoyant synthpop duo behind such top-40 hits as “Chains of Love” and “A Little Respect.” But as Bell and Clarke have refined the core of their unique sound over the decades, it’s become clearer and clearer that the heart of it has less to do with synthesizers and falsetto, and more to do with the pure quality of their songwriting — the intersection of compelling melodies and lyrical authenticity.
That’s evident on Erasure’s new album, The Violet Flame. Their sixteenth studio album, just released this week, it’s an evocative pop-disco-trance meditation on the sacred nature of life, love, longing and vulnerability. Like a musical mandala, the album’s 10 tracks meander from thumping tribal beats to haunting flute lines to bouncy dance tunes.
The songs spiral around one another playfully: The electric dance rhythms of “Dead of Night” evoke a yearning that’s echoed in the bittersweet disco beats of “Paradise,” while the eternal nature of love is celebrated first in Bell’s sultry ballad “Be the One,” then again in the bouncy and melodic “Reason” with a sound that’s quintessential Vince Clarke. The Violet Flame is full of moments where opposites come together.
Heartbreaking lyrics weave through beautiful melodies; raw pain floats above sweet, hopeful beats; intimacy crashes against fear and longing. Those very contradictions are what make the music so transcendent.
The album’s title alludes to a color and frequency of light that’s been said to have particular spiritual and healing properties. Bell, a student of Reiki energy healing, says one of his meditations involved “calling on the violet flame of Saint Germain, who’s supposedly, in your imagination, on the top of the mountain. There’s that thing of meeting your former self: leaving your baggage behind, and going up and stepping into the flame and having everything transmuted and clean and starting from scratch. So that’s what it’s about. I don’t know whether I’ve achieved that in reality, but it’s a process. It’s evolution.”
As a band, Erasure itself seems to be on a long path of evolution and growth. Their previous album, last year’s Christmas record Snow Globe, marked the first project they worked on together after Bell’s partner of 25 years died, and, unsurprisingly, evoked a darker emotional landscape. Many of the songs they chose to record then acknowledged the loneliness and sadness of the holiday season for so many people — and also called upon the ancient roots of the winter holiday, capturing the feeling of an ancient world engulfed in darkness, waiting for the rebirth of the sun.
“Definitely with Snow Globe… I really felt like I was transported back to being a teenage boy and singing in the cathedral at school,” Bell muses. “I love that feeling of when you’re in the church: the smells, the peace, and when you’re singing it is almost as if the sky is open, and you’re communing with everything that’s going on.”
Yet Bell and Clarke’s work has never lost its signature joy — or its momentum. Having just completed a one-man show called Torsten The Bareback Saint at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland, Bell returned to the United States to launch Erasure’s 27-city North American tour, which began on Sept. 12 in Miami and will head to Europe on Nov. 8, concluding with two shows at the end of the year at New York’s Terminal 5.
“The main thing for me on this [album] was embracing discipline rather than fighting it,” Bell says. “Since in school, I was not the most studious pupil, I always thought that part of rock & roll was being a rebel — being able to wake up late and all that stuff. Now I’m thinking much more I want to embrace responsibility and embrace discipline. I think that’s a good thing.”
Bell uses Reiki techniques, he says, in preparing to go on tour. “You can rehearse just as much in your mind as you can singing aloud,” he says. “You can always wish things for the future. You can impose things onto the future... You’re wishing that the audience has a great time, and there’s some kind of spiritual connection going on during the show, and I think that really works.”
In concert, Erasure fans find that connection in the overlap between Clarke’s electronic rhythms and the intimacy of Bell’s voice, which together leave the crowd transformed from many into one — not unlike the communion that came from singing in the cathedral in Bell’s youth.
“I feel like when you’re a singer, you always have to have a certain amount of pathos in your singing,” he says, “and so there’s always some kind of unrequited yearning that I think is never, ever going to get filled up. Which doesn’t mean that you’re an eternal pessimist, but it’s almost like when you’re singing, you’re holding out your hands like a cup. It is like praying… As you’re singing, you’re just pouring out your emotion and just hoping that somewhere, in some place, your voice might be heard in the ethos, and then hopefully your cup will get replenished.” n
Friday, Sept. 26. Borgata.
Show: 9pm at the Music Box.
Afterparty: 10pm at Mixx.
1 Borgata Way, A.C. 866.692.6742. theborgata.com