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The UK synth-pop duo’s 18th studio album attempts—but doesn’t quite attain—the electric thrill of the material that first made them pop sensations.
Of the artists to emerge from the first big wave of UK synth-pop acts in the ’80s, Erasure is one of the few still standing. Along the way, singer Andy Bell and synth fanatic Vince Clarke have weathered all manner of highs and lows—from their commercial peak in the late ’80s and early ’90s, when they landed four consecutive albums at the top of the British charts, to Bell’s 2004 announcement that he had been diagnosed with HIV nearly seven years earlier.
Most impressive is the continued quality of their music. By mostly sticking to their chosen lane—Clarke’s glitzy, club-ready electronics as backdrop to Bell’s beguiling voice and lyrics of emotional enchantment and anguish—the duo amassed an impressive collection of good-to-great albums. Their streak was broken only in 2017 with World Be Gone, a dour record tainted by slower tempos and existential fears fueled by an ugly political present.
While it steers in the right direction, Erasure’s latest full-length The Neon doesn’t quite get the pair back on track. The album is a deliberate effort to return to the sounds and mood of the material that first made them pop sensations: Clarke reached for the analog synths he’s had since the duo’s earliest days, and Bell describes the new album as “going back to the beginning.” In its best moments, like the gooey, glammy “Nerves of Steel” and the disco blurt of “Diamond Lies,” The Neon provides a flicker of the same electric charge found in early hits like “Sometimes” and “Chains of Love.” But Erasure mostly don’t reach those same heights. Though it’s often frothy and fun, The Neon is really the sound of settling—into middle age, into committed relationships, and into their place in musical history.