World Beyond is a reworked iteration of Erasure’s 2017 release, World Be Gone. It is a product of taking the songs and resetting them in collaboration with seven members of the Brussels-based neo-classical outfit, Echo Collective, bringing an unplugged strings/piano/glockenspiel focus to a previously plugged-in process. That said, World Be Gone may have required electrification and been charged with angsty reservations, but it was, in itself, a fairly low-voltage affair.
When you see something taken out of its original form, you ought to feel like it’s been done for good reason. World Beyond is more of a change in the way that you might go home and find that your other half has rearranged the living room furniture, simply on the premise of ‘fancying something different’. Add to this analogy the fact that the sparse arrangements largely knock Vince Clarke out of the equation, then the above furniture reshuffle also involves chucking out the sofa, on the premise that ‘sitting on the floor’ would make an interesting change.
Despite the album’s lyrics’ general insistence that every silver lining has a cloud, one absolutely glorious design feature of Erasure will never fail to be resplendent, and that is the voice of Andy Bell. It is a formidable instrument, a thing of rare profundity among his contemporaries and within his musical domain. His voice sounds more embedded on 2017’s album, whereas in 2018 it is out front and standing strong, up there with the likes of Martin Rossiter, Marc Almond and Alison Moyet for its power and emotive intensity.
The way the songs have been reworked makes this album Erasure’s ‘West End’ moment. If there are any theatrical impresarios contemplating staging some kind of ‘state of the 21st Century’ millennial musing, in which people randomly burst into song (Avocado on Toast – The Musical) then Bell is most definitely your man.
Erasure released The Innocents in 1987. Thirty-plus years later, they have definitely taken the William Blake route and shifted from innocence to experience (bitter experience). Tracks are littered with existential doubt, individual failings and societal hang-ups. ‘Oh, What a World’ laments how, “We unbottled the genie” in our complacent greed, and then laces melancholy with innuendo in the cheekily de-clichéd, “Stop the world, I want to get off/With you, baby.”
As Bell’s voice undoubtedly commands the spotlight, it does mean that the lyrics prominently stick out. There’s nothing as hive-inducing as the lines, “All these things you saw in your pyjamas,/ Are a long-range forecast for your farmers,” from Joseph, but a lot of the lyrics remain like a lot of other lyrics you’ve heard somewhere before. Even the essentially stirring ‘Still It’s Not Over’, a social document of the historic struggles for gay rights, contains, “we had to come up with a cunning plan,” leaving the revolutionary Harvey Milk-like mood feeling just a little bit Baldrick.
When a three-and-a-half minute song can feel steady and stately, but disproportionately long, you’re in danger of zoning out. World Beyond has some pleasant texture and some lovely individual moments of piano, harp, cello and glockenspiel, but ultimately it feels like a step too far.
World Beyond is released on 9th March through Mute.