After three decades and 17 albums of bright dance-pop, Erasure has stepped off the dancefloor. On World Be Gone (★★★½), Vince Clark turns his mastery of the synthesizer towards a richer, more expansive sound, while Andy Bell’s vocals are deeper, darker, and sound appropriately world-weary. The lyrics trade the sunny escapism of synthpop for a starker, more anxious outlook on the world.
The duo, who have rarely shied away from politics and activism in the past, have found inspiration in Brexit, the rise of Trump, and the global upswell of right wing populism. While it’s not exactly a manifesto, it’s about as close to a protest album as Erasure is likely to get, and an interesting choice for two musicians best known for their catchy dance-pop singles. It’s a timely moment of reflection, given Erasure’s longevity.
Apart from a handful of easy pop tunes that recall their best work, World Be Gone is largely a sombre, thoughtful, focused affair. The political bent is unmistakable, but it comes across as more of a sober observation than a call to arms. Clarke and Bell opt instead for musings on the passage of time, marked by a pervasive anxiety about a world in disarray. They may have some harsh words, but they avoid completely sinking into pessimism.
The overtone is grim, but is buoyed by the pure pop escapism of the opener “Love You to the Sky” and the starry-eyed optimism of the closing track “Just a Little Love.” It can’t be a coincidence that Erasure chose to bookend the album with its two brightest and most upbeat tracks. They are also the ones that sound the most like Erasure’s biggest hits.
Despite its heavier tone, World Be Gone remains highly accessible. The pair spend most of the album moving from one plaintive pop ballad to another, a stylistic choice that allows them to highlight Bell’s vocals, linger on certain ideas, and generally create a heavier, richer mood. Anxious and brooding is an odd look for the band that gave us “Always,” but it’s one that lands surprisingly well. The droning, angst-heavy “Oh What a World” almost sounds like a call-back to Clarke’s work with Depeche Mode decades ago, and its ominous, industrial build-ups could easily have been written for his old band.
The end result is somewhat mixed, however. The album’s slower pace saps Erasure of some of their characteristic energy, and highlights traces of awkwardness in the songwriting. While the vocals are definitely a strength here, focusing on them makes for a handful of uneasy moments. The problem may be one of structure. Erasure’s simple rhymes and repetitive nature are well-suited to the bright, fast-paced pop they are known for, but sound a little off when paired with the more somber mood on World Be Gone.
Pairing brooding electronica with upbeat synthpop would have been an odd choice at the best of times, but it can certainly be done, and they do pull it off well on “Oh What a World.” The only real clunker comes midway through, with “A Bitter Parting,” a song that meanders for what feels longer than its three-minute runtime.
Still, if the awkwardness running through World Be Gone can be overlooked, there are some incredibly good moments worth paying attention to. “A Bitter Parting” is followed by the poignant and unexpectedly touching “Still It’s Not Over,” a song that finds Bell reflecting on the struggle for gay rights, its cost, and the progress left to be made. Less autobiographical, but just as affecting, “Lousy Sum of Nothing” is a lament on the general state of the world that soars over Clarke’s synths.
While World Be Gone finds Erasure in a noticeably different mood, there is otherwise little deviation from their familiar style. Bringing that formulaic dance-pop songwriting to a heavier tone and subject matter doesn’t always land perfectly, but Clarke and Bell delivered an album that confronts a tumultuous and uncertain world and offers it a bit of hope. World Be Gone may not be the most memorable or consistent Erasure album, but it is energetic, dramatic, moving, and altogether a worthwhile listen.
World Be Gone is available to stream on Apple Music and Spotify and for sale at amazon.com and Apple Music.
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