Having rarely ventured far from the synths during their first twenty years together, more than a few eyebrows were raised when Erasure decided to release a purely acoustic album in the spring of 2006. Conceived two years earlier, eleven lesser known songs from the band's back catalogue were re-recorded and the album was released to co-inside with Erasure's first ever purely acoustic tour. The opening track Boy sets the scene for the rest of the album; mellow, melodic and with a distinct country and western flavour. Slightly tribal in its percussion, and lacking the energy of the original, this track still manages to gets the album off to a decent start. The tranquil Piano Song follows where Steve Walsh's guitar and Gordon Ticomb's dobro compliment Andy's heartfelt vocals aptly. Soothing and pleasant this rendition undoubtedly is, inspiring and infectious it is not. And there's no absolutely no sign of a piano on this track, or any other. The version of Stay With Me that follows is strikingly beautiful, with David Weiss's woodwind being a major factor in the excellence of the arrangement. Andy sounds as terrific as ever, although the vocals are left a little exposed and more backing vocals would have been a nice addition. This does not stop this being a definite album highlight and a majestic reworking of a truly gorgeous song.
It's not the pop fans might have imagined but explores a more soulful side to this pair. Andy Bell's rich tones work brilliantly with the predominantly acoustic and slide guitar backdrop. Patchy, but 'Home' and 'Love Affair' are gorgeous.Gay Times
Spiralling follows, which is one of the finest and emotive songs ever recorded. As with so much of the album it is tender and peaceful, but too much of the arrangement, which is just Ben Butler on guitar, is reminiscent of the live working of this song present on The Two Ring Circus. The omission of the Safety In Numbers part of the song is also detracts from the recording and there is nothing in this version which excels it above previous recordings. Home follows where Andy once again showcases his near flawless voice. Much of the arrangement works well and it is nice to have some backing vocals that sound very faithful to the original recording, but the acoustic bass played by Joey Seifers sounds too much like a guy playing an elastic band and musically this ruins the song, which is a real shame. All is forgiven though as Tenderest Moments is a complete triumph, and is the only track where Vince plays an instrument on the entire album. Originally the b-side to the Run To The Sun single, the combination of three guitars and Andy's perfect vocals make this the best track on the album. Best of all, Andy rectifies the vocal aberration of the original by singing the song in a lower register and the track is so much better for it. An excellent version and definitely vocally superior to the mediocre original.
Unfortunately the best track on the album is soon followed by the worst. Alien is a great song, but here it is severely blighted by a sub-standard arrangement, with the major sinner being Gordon Titcomb's ill-conceived mandolin which doesn't fit in with the rest of the song at all. Remove this from the equation and we'd have an effective reworking. Instead we just have a disappointment. Blues Away is also not one of Union Street's strengths. Having vocally made amends in Tenderest Moments by ditching the falsetto, Andy squanders the chance to do likewise with this track and whilst the vocals are accomplished, the pitch is still too high which renders the rest of the reworking inconsequential. How Many Times? has Andy on top form and he effortlessly sings over Steve Walsh's simple but effective guitar accompaniment. This is easily one of the strongest tracks on the album and with Andy sounding so good with his deep vocals it really emphasises the falsetto misdemeanour of the preceding track.
Fans' Best/Worst Of
- Tenderest Moments
- Blues Away
Love Affair is up next and benefits from a pleasing string arrangement including violins and a cello. Hauntingly beautiful, if not entirely melodic, the arrangement is coupled with another fine vocal performance from Andy making this a reasonable reworking. Rock Me Gently concludes the album and the most striking thing about this version is how the vocal arrangement has been laboured over - something often lacking on other Union Street tracks. Indeed it seems the original London Community Gospel Choir vocals are present, as well as some new harmonies from Jill Walsh but overall the song just isn't gratifying, largely because the majesty of the original version's arrangement simply cannot be equalled by Steve Walsh's acoustic guitar alone.
Overall this is a pleasant release but sorely misses Vince's genius, which is to be expected given the album doesn't have a single synthesiser on it. One thing Union Street does capture is the brilliance of Andy's voice although sometimes his vocals can be a little over-amplified. There is certainly an unplugged rawness to some of the songs, which sometimes works in their favour, but few of these renditions are as strong as the orchestral tracks from The Two Ring Circus and ultimately this album just leaves you longing to hear the original electronic versions of these tracks instead. Sadly, I don't think was what the band hoped to achieve with Union Street.
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