For the first time, Erasure’s Andy Bell is celebrating the release of new music while in self-isolation and an ocean apart from his bandmate, Vince Clarke.
Released Friday, “The Neon” is Erasure’s 18th album and puts a modern spin on the glittery beats that propelled the synth-pop duo to stardom in the 1980s. Featuring Bell’s searing vocals and Clarke’s thumping basslines, songs like “Hey Now (Think I Got a Feeling)” and “Nerves of Steel” demand to be played at maximum volume ― the irony being, of course, that the COVID-19 crisis is keeping nightclubs and other venues, for which these songs feel meticulously calibrated, shuttered for the foreseeable future.
“The Neon” marks a milestone for the members of Erasure, who first came together as a duo 35 years ago. It also represents a bit of a creative departure. Bell, who lives in London, recorded the album’s 10 tracks with the New York-based Clarke in Atlanta last year. Being in Georgia’s capital city, he said, imbued the music with a youthful exuberance absent from recent Erasure albums like 2017’s moody “World Be Gone.”
“I just wanted to not be a middle-aged bore,” the singer, 56, quipped in an interview with HuffPost. “When I go to a new city, I love that you can be whoever you want to be. You don’t carry all your baggage with you when you go somewhere new. ... I think I kind of reverted back to being a 17-year-old. I had an instinctive feeling it was going to be good.”
Thus far, listeners seem to agree. Consequence of Sound called the album “an undeniable positive for the world,” while Pop Matters praised its “superb electropop” that is “as vibrant as any from the past three and a half decades.”
And Bell isn’t bothered if Erasure’s new songs don’t hit the critical or commercial heights of the band’s ’80s classics like “Chains of Love” and “A Little Respect.”
“I love being under the radar,” he said. “We’re a cult band, which I love. I love my anonymity. We’ve always been a backdrop, especially in the U.K., kind of like ABBA. I feel like we’re very much aligned with them because they were always there. Now they’re always here all the time.”
Bell came out as gay to his family at 17 and, unlike many of his 1980s and ’90s contemporaries, has never shied away expressing his authentic self both publicly and in performances. In 2004, he announced to fans that he was HIV-positive.
Though he bemoans the “sensory overload” of the contemporary pop landscape, he’s nonetheless impressed by openly LGBTQ stars like Adam Lambert and Sam Smith. Still, he fears they, too, could face unforeseen challenges down the line.
“[Coming out] is, in some ways, treated as promotion by record companies now,” he said. “It’s fine if you’re winning for the record company. But I’m always on the lookout for when they get passed by, because they’re probably first on the list to get dropped.”
Bell also shrugs off the notion he helped pave the way for artists like Lambert and Smith by living authentically.
“It’d be interesting to do a gay family musical tree,” he said with a laugh. “[But] it’s like when pop stars or musicians have children. Their children don’t give a damn who their parents are.”
Looking ahead, Bell is eager to return to the road as soon it’s safe to do so, but he’s confident Erasure fans will find creative ways to enjoy “The Neon” until then.
“My sister says she’s been in her garden with her kids, and she’ll tell [the Amazon app] Alexa, ‘Play some Erasure,’ and they’ll be dancing in the garden,” he said. “So maybe they can do something like that.”
Catch the video for “Nerves of Steel” below.