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Photo credit:  Vera Feigerl

 

ERASURE

Other Peoples Songs!

The concept of established acts recording a complete album of cover versions is nothing new. Paul McCartney and John Lennon (as soloists), Bryan Ferry, Duran Duran, Status Quo and David Bowie are among those who have been there with varying degrees of artistic success or failure.

The major point at issue is firstly, what is the point? (Apart from money, of course). Apart from assuming that your fans will slavishly buy everything you release, there is no point in covering standards unless you can bring a new dimension to them. Remaking note-for-note renditions is on the whole rather a waste of time. The McCartney and Lennon projects succeeded by and large, because their love of the old rock'n'roll songs which inspired them shone through, and Bryan Ferry often took old favourites (such as early Dylan material) inside out, rearranged them beyond recognition, and stamped his own character firmly on them. The other acts mentioned above, in my view, generally didn't. (Ironically Status Quo's 'Don't Stop', an OK-to-middling party album, was by far their biggest seller for years).

And I can't really get in the least enthusiastic about Erasure's contribution to the genre.

First, the basic facts. 12 well-known songs, from the late 50s (Buddy Holly) to 1980 (the Korgis), all delivered in that pristine Erasure-esque choirboy vocal and electro style. They ain't rock'n'roll, so don't expect any blistering guitar solos, beefy bass runs or thunderous drum breaks to scorch your socks off. They ain't crooners, so that counts out any ideas of a strings or brass section. No, they're just one man with that almost surreal semi-angelic voice, plus one man and his microchips, Fairlights, DMX7s, or whatever (the usual keyboards, programming gizmos et al).

And it all sounds so one-dimensional. Andy and Vince wrote and recorded some good singles in the 80s ('A Little Respect', 'Sometimes' and 'Stop', to name but three), but (a) they haven't moved on and (b) that same chirpy pop sensibility that enlivened their own songs falls flat when applied to these.

Though I have heard it right through, I'm not going to do a track-by-track review, because I don't feel that's merited. 'Solsbury Hill', the first single, doesn't deviate that far from Peter Gabriel's original, and in my view it's OK. 'Video Killed The Radio Star', sung in a robot voice by guest Mick Martin, with Andy on backing vocals, is almost a replica of the Buggles' chart-topper. As such, it's probably the most successful effort here - but, why? Maybe the guys could have stuck to Human League, Pet Shop Boys, Ultravox and OMD oldies, and it would have worked from that point of view, while being totally redundant from another.

But the rest - let me see. On the whole, this album has about as much passion as a karaoke machine. Sorry, but it has to be said. 'Make Me Smile (Come Up And See Me)', in its original form, works because Steve Harley's angry, cutting lyrics don't stop it from sounding like the great commercial pop tune we all know it is. Erasure's take just sounds like a twee singalong. So does 'When Will I See You Again'. So does 'Everyday'. So does 'True Love Ways'. 'Goodnight' is really quite pretty as far as it goes (I don't think they have the irony to make a song with that title anything but a lullaby), but those plinky keyboards just don't give the song any real depth.

'Can't Help Falling In Love' has been mauled by everyone from the Stylistics to UB40, and the twee effort on here will earn the writers (or their estate) a few more royalties but not serve any other useful purpose. 'Everybody's Got To Learn Sometime', the newest of the twelve songs, is passable, but if only because it sounds not that dissimilar to the Korgis' own. Moreover I've always found 'Ebb Tide' and 'You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'' Dull City to start with, and listening to this record does nothing to change my mind.

If you're an Erasure fan and not familiar with the songs anyway, you'll almost certainly enjoy this. Maybe I should have left my old-fashioned musical prejudices at the door. It's clever, technically polished, but absolutely soulless. Moreover, if I was a fan, I might not be too happy at paying full price for a new album which only plays for 40 minutes.

by JOHN DMR

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