The Violet Flame
Back in the 1980s when the band were at their most prolific, a new Erasure would arrive almost every year. Fast forward into 2000s and album releases have become a bit more sparce but fans rarely have to wait more than a few years for a new LP to come out. So in autumn 2014, less than year since the Christmas themed Snow Globe album, and hot on the heels of not one, but two Andy Bell solo albums, The Violet Flame was released. Dead Of Night a lively way to open the album and has an immediate club/dance-floor feel to it with its menacing synths and thumping beats. It's all very electro, with Andy's sultry vocals and lyrics about a deceitful partner. The "D-D-D-D-Dead of night" chorus isn't immediately gratifying but before long it infiltrates your brain and won't leave! A strong way to get the album underway. Slick lead single Elevation follows. With it's summery feel and uplifting lyrics it is a pleasant track (and a real grower) but it's a little unremarkable overall. Nice, but not a classic Erasure track. Unlike the eurphoric Reason which is one of the band's finest tracks for many a year. The tub-thumbing beat and popping synths compliment a rich tapestry of joyous Vince-isms which are buried in the mix. The uplifting lyrics and impossibly infectious bridge and chorus make this one of the most melodic and enjoyable tracks since Cowboy (which is a very, very good thing!). Flawless pop at its very best.
Some who've been burned before will be reluctant to give Erasure another chance. For fans and those with open minds, however, The Violet Flame's existence is vivid proof that Erasure are still on fire.Classic Pop Magazine
Promises is next and with it's pulsating synths and club-like bass this is another song that would feel at home on the dance-floor. As the song continues, more layers are added to the arrangement with more trademark Vince sounds becoming increasingly prevalent. The track wouldn't feel out of place on Andy's Electric Blue or iPop solo albums and is a solid and accomplished track. The divine and beautiful Be The One is next and is one of the band's most beautiful and heartfelt songs. Andy's vocals are long and drawn out and are unlike any other Erasure song I can think of. It's incredible that after all these years, the band can create something that sounds so fresh and different. This is the ballad of the album and although it's a slower track, you'll still find yourself tapping your feet along with the beat. Lyrically Andy is very much on form and the arrangement once more is slick and on the money (especially the sublime middle 8). An instant classic. Next up is fans' favourite Sacred which sees the return of Andy's falsetto in the ethereal introduction, which is complemented nicely with pulsating synths and trance-like notes. The track builds up nicely to an epic musical chorus. I say musical, because there aren't really any lyrics in the chorus (apart from some woahs), but it still works on every level. A very enjoyable track that is impossible to sit still to.
The relentless quality continues with the magnificent Under The Wave, right from the 1980s opening with plinky notes to the lush arrangement of various Andys woahing as the song concludes. Bouncy and whimsical, it has a Chorus b-side shimmer to it. Andy's sweeping vocals are delivered in a delicious low register and whilst the lyrics have a very sombre edge to them the song feels sweet and bubbly. The military style drums in the chorus are great, as is the oh-oh-oh melody after the chorus. A brilliant song only Erasure are capable of creating. The pace of the album then slows for the melancholy Smoke & Mirrors. The twisted synth opening and interesting, almost tribal, percussion allow Andy's tormented vocals to be unimpeded in the foreground. The song acts as a vechile for Andy to make a posthumous apology to his former partner Paul Hickey and whilst the lyrics are deeply heartfelt and personal the song doesn't quite feel like it ever gets going. The tempo is subsquently raised by Paradise (no, not the b-side to Drama! - this is a different song with the same name). Rhythmic synths and thumbing beats once again conjure visions of a nightclub dance-floor, with this track having a very strong disco feel to it. There are quirky trademark Vince sounds in the mix, including a creaking synth sound that reminds me of some early Depeche Mode tracks. This song perhaps lacks a killer vocal hook, although lyrically it is strong. The album concludes in strong fashion in the form of the regretful Stayed A Little Late Tonight. The retro synth opening gives way to a nice mid-tempo track which uses an undertone of piano chords to allow story-telling lyrics of conflict, fear and self-blame to take centre stage. For some reason, fading out songs has gone completely out of fashion since Nightbird and as with every other track on this album, this song just stops. The ending is too abrupt for my liking but I guess it just leaves me wanting more!
Fans' Best/Worst Of
- Under The Wave
The double album edition includes a second CD of live tracks recorded as part of the Live At Short Circuit festival at The Roundhouse, London in May 2011. In all, the live performance contains 11 songs that cover many of the band's biggest hits as well as the ever popular album track Hideaway. The band were on good form on night (despite Andy mixing up some lyrics as usual!) and the atmosphere of the crowd comes across well. With the exception of the Acoustic Tour in 2006, all the tours the band have done from the turn of the century have musically sounded pretty much the same with Vince no longer hitting the road with a collection of synths but instead just taking his laptop. The arrangements found here are slightly different than on previous tours which helps differentiate this collection of live tracks from other recent live albums and concert bootlegs, which is certainly welcome. Overall, the CD makes for a pleasant, if not essential, companion to the album.
The limited edition box set of The Violet Flame also includes an exclusive third CD which contains remixes of each song from the album. The Violet Flame Remixed is inconsistent in its quality with a few too many fairly generic dance remixes that don't hit the sweet spot. That said, there are some strong reworkings to be found such as the sumptuious Paul Humphreys Remix of Be The One, the atmospheric Smoke & Mirrors Atatika Remix and the fine Black Light Odyssey Remix of Paradise. The less said about the terrible Daniel Miller Sacred remix the better though! Those who bought the box set were also treated to a download of the DJ Mix of the album. Expertly remixed by Electronic Periodic, this continuous single track mixes all the songs of the album together (vocally Be The One and Smoke & Mirrors are omitted but musically make cameos in the arrangement) and is an excellent alternative way to enjoy The Violet Flame. As too is the 24-bit FLAC file download of the album that is also available to those who bought the box set. FLAC files not only offer far superior sound than MP3s, but being 24-bit means the sound quality is actually even higher than that found on the CD (which uses a 16-bit digital format). Arguably only an audiophile using high end speakers or headphones can tell the difference between the FLAC files vs CD sound but it is nice to finally see Mute embracing high fidelity digital formats.
After nearly a decade, Nightbird finally has a viable contender for the best Erasure album of the 21st century which speaks volumes for how much The Violet Flame is a return to form for the band. There isn't a single weak track, Andy's got his mojo back when it comes to writing lyrics and the production is slick, layered and inventive throughout. Much credit needs to go to producer Richard X who not only has given the album a modern sheen whilst staying true to the band's trademark sound, but was actually so involved in helping forge the album that for the first time ever the band decided to give the producer a writing credit for the whole album. The writing process was also unprecidented whereby the band did not write the songs on piano and guitar but instead laid down synth tracks straight away and this, coupled with the Clarke / Bell / Richard X partnership, has resulted in an excellent album that is home to some of the band's finest ever songs. Simply put, The Violet Flame shines dazzlingly bright and is an album not to be missed.
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