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24 Nov 2007

Review: Light at the End of the World – About a month (and change) ago I finally got the new Erasure album, Light at the End of the World. I did what I always do with new Erasure albums: I listened to it incessantly for a week or so to break it in and then eased off for another week or so, listening to the songs when they popped up on shuffle, but not playing the album all the way through. I was tempted to write a review shortly after I got the album, but I knew that I hadn’t had enough to time to properly digest it yet. After a month, though, I think I’m ready. I don’t expect today’s entry to be that popular with most of my regular readers, but sometimes a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.

“In Light at the End of the World, Erasure return to their dance/disco roots in a big way.”

First, an overview: in Light at the End of the World, Erasure return to their dance/disco roots in a big way. You don’t even have to listen to the album to know this—a glimpse at the cover art is enough to clue in even the most oblivious fan. It’s flamboyant and very out there, just like Erasure. And the album inside truly is, in my opinion, a gem. It’s definitely a change in direction for the band, harkening back to albums from the last decade like Wild! and Chorus. I will admit that I don’t have the previous album, Union Street, and don’t really plan on buying it (although if someone were to, say, buy it for me as a gift, I probably would not object), but I think it’s safe to say that the latest album is an about face from its acoustic sound. And, while Union Street is a look back at classic Erasure songs, Light at the End of the World is a step forward.

(If you haven’t heard the album yet and want to listen along, I’ve uploaded the songs to my account at Anywhere FM. Clicking on that link will bring you to my account—more specifically, it will bring you to my playlist for Light at the End of the World and start playing a random song from that list. It seems to only play two songs at any one time and then just repeat these songs, but if you click on the stop button and then hit play continuously you can cycle through all the songs until you get to the one you want to hear. Not the most efficient way to listen to the album, but as far as I can tell it is legal. The hitch, of course, is that you can only listen to a limited number of songs before you have to sign up for an account. At least it should give you a taste of the album.)

The album starts out strong, with two fast dance numbers in “Sunday Girl” and “I Could Fall in Love With You.” “Sunday Girl” is a great dance song, and it’s not surprising Erasure chose to open with it. It reminds me of The Innocents and Chorus, both of which opened with hit singles. I think “I Could Fall in Love With You” is a stronger song, though, both musically and lyrically. It just seems to be more of a classic Erasure song to me—“Don’t get me wrong/I can be strong/then I could fall in love with you.” Simple lyrics, but when Andy sings them they come alive.

The third and fourth tracks took a little getting used to. Unlike the first two tracks, which feel like they were written in a similar vein, “Sucker for Love” and “Storm in a Teacup” are like night and day. “Sucker for Love” is probably the most flamboyant, campy song on the album, and on first listen I wasn’t a big fan of it. After a few listens, though, it began to grow on me. It reminds me of “La Gloria” from Wild!, although I can’t quite explain why. There’s no denying that the lyrics are pure Erasure: “Give me back my calling cards and vices/my dignity and romance novels too” and “If you wanna know the truth, I’m feeling open ended/for without love, I’m not tremendous.”

“Storm in a Teacup” is a very open song about Andy’s mother and her alcoholism, and I found it heart-breaking. I don’t know why this didn’t click with me on first listen—maybe it needed time to sink in—but I remember feeling somewhat ambivalent toward it. After a few solid listens (and a reading of the lyrics), though, it really started to hit me. I can’t listen to this song now without feeling a twinge of heartache. I don’t have an alcoholic mother, and I’ve never gone through anything even remotely like what Andy sings about, but I can still connect with the emotions. Take these lyrics, from the chorus: “One little white lie was enough to conceal my goodbye, then I stole away/kissed her farewell and wished her the best for her life/then I stole away like a thief in the night.” I think almost anyone of a certain age can understand what’s going on here: someone you love is doing something self-destructive and you just have to get out of the situation—and yet you still feel guilty about doing what’s right for you. Lyrically, “Storm in a Teacup” is a good candidate for strongest song on an album filled with great lyrics.

“Fly Away,” the fifth track, is even more readily accessible than the previous track, because everyone can relate to heartbreak. “I’m a fool if I think my babe’ll come back/I’ll be waiting still I’m starting to crack/but I care if you forget about me/and I cry and I cry/’til you take it all from my heart.” I wish I could say I’ve never felt like this, but I have, and I can still remember exactly what it felt like, even though it’s been years. Musically, the tune is very catchy, almost at odds with the lyrics, but it works really well. I can’t help sing along with this one, especially when the chorus (the lyrics I quoted above) kicks in. “Golden Heart” is another mid-tempo-yet-uplifting piece. I don’t think the lyrics are quite as good as some of the other songs, but I really like the music, and it is another very singable tune.

As the album progresses, it seems to slow down considerably, especially after the sixth track. “How my Eyes Adore You” is quirky number that starts off slowly and has a bit of a spoken rap feel to the verses, and it doesn’t really grab me like some of the other songs. I don’t dislike it, but it’s probably my least favorite song on the album. The eighth track, on the other hand, I like. “Darlene” relies a lot on syncopation, and the off-kilterness of it all really complements the lyrics. “You’ve got your religion, I’ve got my addictions/we’ve got dirty dishes in the sink/looking from the window, kissing in the kitchen/fall so hard that I don’t have to think.” I like the juxtaposition of religion and addictions, and the spare lyrics of the rest of the chorus paint a very vivid emotional picture for me.

“When a Lover Leaves You” is, interestingly enough, a very soothing song. The verses talk about the pain of being left by a lover, but the chorus is a plea of love that is strangely uplifting. It would be easy to make this a sad song, but Erasure have somehow managed to produce a warm song that still tugs at the heartstrings. “Glass Angel” is the last track, and in my experience Erasure last tracks tend to be very low-key. Their first album ended with “Oh L’amour” (on the U.S. version), probably the best Erasure last track of all time. With that one exception, though, Erasure last tracks tend to be very mellow—Erasure albums don’t go out with a bang, they go out with a long, slow fade. Not that this is a bad thing, of course—“Home,” the last track on Chorus is one of my favorite Erasure songs. “Glass Angel” carries on this tradition. It is somnolent, hypnotic, smooth. At times the lyrics are more sense poem than narrative or dialogue. All in all, it makes for a very low-key experience. (It just occurred to me that perhaps all last tracks are like this because they wouldn’t really fit anywhere else on the album.)

As you might imagine, I like this new album. It’s too early to say where it will stand in the overall scheme of things for me, but I’m enjoying it right now. An interesting thing happens when I get a new Erasure album—because I have a tendency to listen to new albums at every opportunity, they wind up becoming fused with my emotional state at that time in my life, and whenever I listen to the album (or a song on the album) thereafter, it brings back the memories of that time. It’s like how certain smells can bring you back to a certain time in your life because you were exposed to those smells and they left an impression on your mind. You can’t always put your finger on it, or put into words what you are feeling, but there is a definite connection between the smell and the state of mind. It’s the same with me and music, in particular Erasure’s music.

Chorus stands as one of my favorite Erasure albums, if not my favorite, and that is due in large part to the fact that it was the first “new” Erasure album I had ever bought. That is, I bought it shortly after it came out in 1991. The previous albums I had all bought well after they had come out, as I didn’t become familiar with Erasure until I went away to university in 1991. But Chorus was the first album to come out after I became a fan of the group, and whenever I listen to it I am transported back to 1991. This effect is even more powerful because it is the only Erasure album I still have on cassette, so when I started buying Erasure CDs I skipped it. But the only cassette player in our house stopped working quite some time ago, so it’s been a while since I’ve actually listened to it. I finally decided to order it online, and it arrived along with Light at the End of the World. So even as I’m listening to the latest Erasure has to offer, I’m also going back to an old favorite (this may also be way I tend to compare the new album to Chorus above).

It will be interesting to see what feelings come to the surface when I listen to Light at the End of the World a few years down the road. A lot of things have changed recently, and the plan I had mapped out for the immediate future has been more or less scrapped. Things are uncertain and the future is something of a mystery. I can’t help but wonder how I will look back on this period in my life. However I may feel, Light at the End of the World will be the soundtrack, and it will remind me of this time and help me keep things in perspective.

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