Ranking the Erasure albums

What generally inspires me to write rank lists derives from what I see elsewhere on the internet. As I was considering punching up what I thought to be the list of a longtime Erasure devotee dating back to the 80s was a conglomeration of ideas lacking perspective. It’s far too easy sitting here in the year 2022 and criticizing music you’ve never heard up to this point that came out 30+ years ago. Ranking Erasure requires a fan who was there in the 80s listening to these albums as they were released, and remembering these special moments whilst listening to their new output in the current climate.

My relationship with Erasure begins back in 1987 when “The Circus” was first released, and I was entering my first year into high school. This was something of a banner year for me personally, as I was first discovering Mute Records and all the exciting sounds and bands on its roster; Depeche Mode, Fad Gadget, and Nick Cave, to name just a few. In addition to getting my mind wrapped around synth pop in all its forms, I was beginning to enter into a vast new world of electronics and dance experimentation, from Cabaret Voltaire to 808 State. It was extremely fertile ground to be a fan of electronic music, so like anything, I had to figure out exactly where Vince Clarke and Andy Bell fit into my confined 15-year old headspace. I began studying Clarke, learning he was something of a keyboard aficionado, solidifying his ground with Depeche and Yaz before Erasure, and that Bell was the frontman lending his capable vocals, and providing a rather flamboyant flair to their videos. It was the first time I openly enjoyed a band with a gay lead singer (that I knew of), and as a young man who never questioned his heterosexual innards, this was all cool with me. In fact, Erasure helped me not give two shits about a person’s sexuality — if Bell was making such awesome sounds, he could be any flavor under the sun and it would make no difference. Real men don’t let the sexuality of others bother them, and I loved Erasure for flaunting their individuality for all to see (the first time I ever saw Bell was the “Who Needs Love Like That” video, so you should watch this to see what I mean).

After getting these important things sorted in my head so I could continue into adulthood, Erasure began growing and expanding their sound. It was really fun to witness, and after so many years of letting all these songs sink in, I realize why I’m compelled to share my most overwhelming Erasure-ish (thanks, Abba) thought to you dear readers — Erasure is simply one of the greatest pop bands in history. The skill, the hooks, the writing, the lyrics, the live shows and the attitude all collide to produce some of the most irresistible pop that’s ever pumped through our speakers.

Checking out other Erasure ranks on the internet and Youtube have shown me that exactly zero other Erasure fans share the same viewpoints I do when it comes to figuring out their worst to best. Well, please allow an active fan of 35 years to do that for you. I’ve listened to most of these albums dozens and dozens of times, and I also consider singles and b-sides when making my ranks. After all, some Erasure albums (especially from the 80s) cannot be ranked without considering the brilliance of the sounds emanating from those 12″ singles we had to compliment the albums with. This is an action in itself that no longer exists, which makes it all the more important for an old-school fan like myself to note these details.

I’ve recently pulled all of my Erasure records out of storage to record them to digital, and it’s been a blast revisiting all of the albums and singles. One of the coolest things about Erasure releases is the array of mixes you get, and combined with some great b-sides it absolutely skews my viewpoint to one album over another. Some of these albums represent a close race to a certain spot on the list, but a remix or hidden track can push that album over the top. These albums and songs are fresh in my mind, so let’s get started! Before I do so, however, let me kindly point out that I will only be focusing on their studio albums that they wrote — there will be no “Other People’s Songs” or “Snowglobe” here. The sure sign of a Erasure noob list is the inclusion of these albums.

15. Cowboy (1997)

I’ve tried to appreciate “Cowboy”, Christ knows I have. But it’s a mess of an album, let’s be honest. I’ve always felt this album was their response to their previous self-titled effort which saw the band take a massive departure from their formula, and thus confusing some of their more close-minded followers. “Cowboy” almost sounds like a band trying to sound like Erasure, which, of course, is odd coming from Erasure themselves. There are a couple of tunes that sound like classic Erasure, mainly the singles, like “Rain” and “In My Arms”. But generally, this is the worst Erasure album because it sounds like a band struggling to get back to something they’re so good at, and that’s being themselves.

14. The Neon (2020)

Has anyone else noticed a sharp decline in Bell’s voice lately? No judgment here — I mean, the dude is in his 60s now, so all of the crooning he’s done in his life is clearly having an effect. Having said this, it’s tough to not focus on the shaky frailty of his quivering voice when listening to “The Neon”. Even Clarke’s tunes seem by the numbers, creating an audio framework of commodity over creativity. We can give Erasure a perpetual pass because of all the greatness they’ve given us over the years, but I was only able to listen to “The Neon” twice, and that might be enough for me. Clarke’s production is as tight as ever, there’s no doubt about this fact. Listening to this album on a loud system is pretty cool, hearing the power of the grooves on “Hey Now” and “Fallen Angel”, so he’s clearly at a point in his career where producing sounds that are as technically proficient as they can be comes incredibly easy for him. Bell’s lyrics are right where they’ve always been, teetering the line between cheese and worldview. There’s nothing wrong with this approach as he’s proved time and again, but when his delivery sounds like an old man taking a dump, it’s a bit hard to take seriously. It’s awesome to see Erasure is still around pumping out the beats, but the decline is finally making itself evident.

13. Tomorrow’s World (2011)

Every once in a while, Erasure bring in an outside influence to produce their albums, and with “Tomorrow’s World” they brought in Frankmusik to do these honors. For the most part, it’s a failed experiment. Put simply, “Tomorrow’s World” doesn’t really sound much like Erasure. The nuance is gone, the synth quirk is flat, and Bell’s vocals and lyrics sound generic. I can appreciate a band wanting to switch shit up, and Erasure have tried this a few times in their career. While other producers working on Erasure albums have pretty much always been a good thing for their evolution, this album shows that someone else’s agenda isn’t necessarily a wise thing. Like both “Cowboy” and “Neon”, “T.W.” doesn’t give us what we love about Erasure. Sure, there are some catchy tunes, but the bulk of the songs here sound like vehicles for the current remixers of the day to step in and provide extended club versions for empty-headed and apathetic club-goers. Not a total failure, but certainly not an album I have any interest in revisiting.

12. Light At The End Of The World (2007)

This is the last of Erasure’s “ho-hum” albums. Like the albums I’ve already mentioned, “LATEOTW” has a generic foundation that’s tough to ignore. It does have some good moments sprinkled here and there, and Bell’s lyrics hit a high point on tracks like “Storm In A Teacup”. There are flourishes of old school Erasure here that are welcome, but what makes them soar a little higher is melding the old with the new, and Clarke’s productions achieve that on this piece of work. Erasure also fall back into all-hands-on-deck level trance cheese on songs like “Sucker For Love” which end up making them sound like they’re grasping for something that is expected of them. It’s the more tender moments where Erasure find their footing, and there’s enough of that here, warranting some repeat listenings.

11. The Violet Flame (2014)

“The Violet Flame” is full-steam ahead Erasure. Erasure is in “don’t-give-a-fuck” mode here, and it works. Where every other time Clarke tries to refine their sounds to modern expectations, and fails, “TVF” is where he finally gets it right. Mix in the fact that Bell’s vocals are still soaring and you’ve got Erasure’s best album of the 2010’s. Clarke brings in Richard X to help distill the vision down, and he does an ample job of creating a vibe that still sounds modern, but classic enough to satisfy the old school bulk of Erasure die-hards. While it still shows that Erasure has problems with staying current in the face of their advancing age brackets, it proves they can hold down the fort in any current club that needs some songs to keep asses moving on the dance floor.

10. World Be Gone (2017)

Every blue moon, Erasure stops and puts out an album where they couldn’t care less what anyone thinks. “World Be Gone” is such a moment, where Bell reminds us of what an excellent lyricist he can be when he’s motivated enough, and through these moments of the singer’s passion we can also sense Clarke’s focus on delivering his trademark synth prowess. “WBG” is an open “fuck off” letter to the world, expressing a festering disdain to the disappointment of humanity’s failures. There are no overt dance tunes to be found here, only carefully-crafted synth mosaics for Bell to spit his anger onto. The result is one of the most personal and engaging Erasure experiences to date. To try and explain and quote the album would be siphoning its astuteness, so listening to the album will be the best proof for your pudding.

9. Loveboat (2000)

“Loveboat” annoyed me when it first came out. Perhaps it was just my dislike of “Cowboy” that came before it, but time has proven that this album has aged rather well. There’s a down-home acoustic element to “Loveboat” that passed me by that has taken me some time to fully absorb, but in retrospect, this album is a good testament to Erasure doing what they want to do in the face of expectations. There really isn’t a bad track on here, and there’s enough difference and experimentation between all the moods that it’s easy to discover something you didn’t notice the last time. It’s easy to see why a lot of generic Erasure fans might slough this album off to the wayside, but if you pay attention there’s a lot here to sink your teeth into. I remember at the time receiving multiple versions of “Freedom” from the record company, asking me to play these records in the clubs to gauge audience response, but I never played them as I thought they were shit. And as I think back to why I disliked this album at the time, I think it may have been the promotion of it. If you’re willing to sit down and listen to what this album has hidden on it, rather than focus on the sloppily remixed singles, you’ll find some real gems here.

8. Wonderland (1985)

I’m sure I’ll catch shit for having this at number 8 on the list, so I’ll explain my reasoning. “Wonderland” is the sound of a band landing awkwardly onto the scene. It has some great singles that we all know, like “Oh L’amour” and “Heavenly Action”, and I’m not ignoring the brilliance of those tunes. In fact, I really enjoy “Wonderland” even still, and revisiting it these past few weeks has reminded me why this band is still around in the first place — if it weren’t for this solid foundation they might not have survived all these years. I will say that “Wonderland” doesn’t have much flow to it, though. It sounds like a bunch of songs recorded at different times and locations and then slapped together to make an album. There are Clarke mixes and Joseph Watt mixes and Flood mixes, and the fluidity is staved. There are even different versions between the US and UK markets — buy the original vinyl pressings to see what I mean. So while Clarke was already a known and proven commodity even before this album was released, there is a sense of, “we’re not sure what we have here” vibes happening on “Wonderland”. I prefer the US version which includes the original “March On Down The Line” — the UK version omits this track and includes a gross Watt mix of “Push Me Shove Me” and the forgettable “Pistol”. Any version you get, though, it’s tough to ignore that the album feels like a collection of previously available material rather than a cohesive whole. Not that this makes “Wonderland” a bad album in any way, but it certainly hasn’t aged all that well.

7. Nightbird (2004)

In Erasure’s vast canon of albums, “Nightbird” is the one that has surprised me the most over the years. I had more or less written them off at the time this was released, considering that “Loveboat” and “Cowboy” had preceded it, not to mention that they had resorted to putting out cover albums to try and stay relevant. “Nightbird” took me a while to appreciate, but once it starting taking shape, it has easily become one of my favorite Erasure releases. At the time, it seemed like Erasure had settled down and committed some time to focusing on what made them great in the first place — being themselves. Listening to “Nightbird” now definitely proves that it has stood the test of time, and even strengthened its resolve. It’s their one post-90s album that sounds like classic Erasure while still modernizing what made them noticeable to us in the first place.

6. I Say I Say I Say (1994)

While perusing other rank lists on the interwebs, I noticed that “I Say” is at the top of many user’s opinions, which is a bit surprising considering no one paid much attention to it when it was released in 1994. I wonder if these people are older or newer fans, but all the same, “I Say” is a strong entry in the long list of Erasure albums. It was less dark than their previous album, and probably was more “Erasure” sounding, meaning that the maximum amount of people could enjoy it while not being too surprised. The band had released the “Abba-Esque” EP before this as well, so it felt like it had been a while since we had heard some original Erasure. One of their biggest hits is on here in the form of “Always”, and some other rock solid singles like “Run To The Sun” and “I Love Saturday” made sure that the album would sell well. I didn’t love this album at the time as I was obsessed with people like Autechre and Aphex Twin, but time has proven “I Say” to be a very classic example of Erasure.

5. The Circus (1987)

This was my entry into the world of Erasure, never to turn back. I’m glad of it, too, as “The Circus” only gets better with each passing year. This is one of a few Erasure albums where every track could have been a single, and probably a fairly popular single at that. From “Sometimes” to “It Doesn’t Have To Be” to “Victim Of Love”, Erasure started planting the groundwork to being one of the top pop bands on earth by representing their albums with top notch singles filled with cool remixes and b-sides. One of the intriguing aspects of Mute as a label, particularly in the 80s, was its in-house roster of remixers and producers, like Holger Hiller, Mark Stent, Mark Saunders, Gareth Jones, and of course, Daniel Miller, who would not just produce the bands, but also step in and deliver insanely high quality remix productions to compliment the originals. Remixing was starting to find its footing as an art form entirely in and of itself, and “The Circus” is one of the earliest traces of this fact. “The Circus” is one of a few albums where you haven’t really had the entire experience until you dive into the phenomenal 12″ singles associated with it. The album was produced by the one and only Flood, who would go on to produce countless other bands afterwards (I’m not going to name them all, but you’ve heard his productions whether you’re aware of it or not), and he would also give his remix efforts on top of his album versions. The associated remix album “The Two Ring Circus” got released later the same year, with new remixes not on the singles themselves, acting as a further promotional tool, but also proving there was more to be explored within these sonically dense songs.

4. The Innocents (1988)

We’re now at a point in the list where any of these albums could supplant the other depending on what day I’m listening to them. Erasure favorites can change with the tides, but today, “The Innocents” shall grace the number four spot. It’s an odd thing, because “The Innocents” is not a perfect album. Where “The Circus” doesn’t have a single dud on it, “The Innocents” has songs like “Witch In The Ditch”, which stick out like a gnarled and bloodied sore thumb. What on earth were they thinking with that moment?? But you know what, the rest of the album is so fucking magical that you let it go. The late 80’s was also a period where Clarke and his team of Mute producers were going through an insanely creative spurt, pumping out quality remixes and b-sides on cue. If you’ve only ever heard “The Innocents” and not its adjacent singles, you’re doing yourself a massive disservice. Sure, “A Little Respect” is Erasure’s biggest moment, but have you heard the Mark Saunders remix? Have you heard the b-side to that single, “Like Zsa Zsa Gabor?” Have you heard Mark MaGuire’s remix of “Chains Of Love”, or the b-side to that single, “Don’t Suppose”? And what about the “Ship Of Fools” single with another Mark Saunders remix and one of their best b-sides, “When I Needed You?” And who can forget the classic Orb remix of “Ship Of Fools” that came out a few years later? We all know exactly why “The Innocents” is such a stone cold classic, with their two most popular songs on it, not to mention great lost singles like “Phantom Bride”, and “Heart Of Stone”. But if you really want to dig in and discover the rest of the magic, get the singles!

3. Wild! (1989)

As much as I was surprised with other Erasure fans naming “I Say” as their favorite, I was even more bemused to see “Wild!” so low on people’s lists. Really? Seriously? You people aren’t listening closely enough. Now I will say, like “Innocents” before it, there exists one bogus moment with the song “La Gloria” that stands so completely out of place with the rest of the album that you can only figure Clarke and Bell were drunk and passed out when it came to sequencing the album. It’s just a dopey song that hardly deserves to exist as a b-side. Other than this track, “Wild!” is an incredibly perfect pop artifact where every song on the album deserved to be a hit single. And like “Innocents” before it, “Wild!” yielded the greatest remixes and b-sides this band would ever produce. It would just be silly to consider this album without the artful range of the singles that sprouted from it. Mark Saunders stepped in to produce the album, and he also provides all the best remixes of the singles to boot. “Drama!” contains the rave-influenced “Sweet Sweet Baby” and 60’s Motown vibes of “Paradise, while “You Surround Me” hauls out a Daniel Miller-produced cover of Cerrone’s “Supernature” (later released on its own as a single). But perhaps Erasure’s finest moment in single form was “Blue Savannah”, taking a perfect pop song, and twisting it in all kinds of different directions, providing no less than four versions that all sound distinctly different, yet contain the same energy as the original. And let’s not forget the b-sides to this single, “Runaround On The Underground” and “No G.D.M.”, which are good enough to be on any Erasure album. “Dreamlike State”, the b-side to “Star”, is not only their greatest b-side, but one of their greatest tracks hands down. Even the non-single tracks like “How Many Times” and “Brother and Sister” support an argument that “Wild!” is their best, and “Piano Song” ends an otherwise incredibly energetic exercise with an introspective ballad about loss. “Wild!” remains an exceptional album experience, and one of the best pop moments to ever exist.

2. Chorus (1991)

“Chorus” is the other example of Erasure kicking out a perfect album with no clunkers, but unlike “The Circus”, these songs are somehow even better. Following on the feverishly juiced up creativity they were showcasing from their previous two albums, Clarke and Bell decided to drop a record that was even more awash in high tech productions and pointed lyrics. The album starts with the self-titled single, with Bell on point about the end of our earth due to human pollution. It’s a very keen way to start off proceedings, and begins the experience with a darker tone. What really shines on “Chrous”, however, is Clarke’s innate ability to not just write catchy hooks, but display ingenuity with his keyboards and synthesizers. You can always hear him tinkering away with a little sound here, and melody over there. “Chorus” is the type of album that is so quietly busy that it would take a lifetime to pick up on all of its nuances. And like the albums before it, the singles released from “Chorus” are to be celebrated with some staggeringly good remixes and b-sides to be discovered. If you’re looking for the perfect synth pop album, look no further than “Chorus”, and for fuck’s sakes, don’t forget to pick up the singles that go with it!

1. Erasure (1995)

Yeah yeah, I know — this is one of the most hated-on Erasure albums out there. And those haters are plain wrong. Erasure fans tends to dismiss this self-titled album because it’s the most radical departure from their formula of 3-minute pop ditties, created to own the charts and capture hearts. This is precisely why I love this album more than any other in the Erasure catalog. It is, by far, their most personal statement they’ve ever made, and it bleeds over into the songs 10-fold. There’s a very clear reason why it’s their only self-titled album, and why it’s their only cover where you can actually see their faces. “Erasure” captures every little thing we love about Erasure, and then gives us a little more just for good measure. Erasure made the excellent decision to hire Thomas Fehlmann for production duties, and this makes the album all the better for it. Full disclosure: I am a massive Fehlmann fan, and if you’re not familiar with him, go google him and check out his own music to familiarize yourself with one of the best electronic music producers to ever slam into planet earth. On top of that, why not go read this interview with Fehlmann, conducted by yours truly. What Fehlmann inspired out of Clarke and Bell is not only an unbridled honesty, but a much needed spaciousness that Erasure were simply not used to. The average track length on “Erasure” is in the seven minute range, and while you might think that provides too much wriggle room for Clarke and Bell, the opposite happens, with the band seemingly not at all uncomfortable with the extra time allotted to them. Some of their greatest works are on this album, such as all three singles, “Stay With Me”, “Fingers And Thumbs”, and perhaps their most beautiful single of all, “Rock Me Gently”, a 10-minute ballad that sounds like a haunted house made of synthesizers and ghostly choirs coming from non other than Diamanda Galas. At the end of the day, though, “Erasure” more than proves to be their greatest album experience. It transforms effortlessly from pop to ambient to experimental to balladry and back to pop, and does it all without sounding forced or trite. “Erasure” is evolution from start to finish, through its meticulous keyboard production to the raw honesty of the vocals. Erasure simply experimented on this album, and while it caught a lot of people by surprise, those who chose to give it a chance saw it for what it was: a natural progression for Clarke and Bell. Do catchier singles exist on other Erasure albums? Yes. Does “Erasure” have mass appeal? Absolutely not. Is “Erasure” their most fluid, personal, beautiful, and thought-provoking album, demanding a more sensitive and attentive listener? You bet your ass.

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