Everything old is new again, and the world has once again found itself tied up in synthesizer cables and keeping digital time together. We're all winking irony, The Killers are high-end chart contenders, while Fischerspooner and The Postal Service are skirting the mainstream. Kelly Osbourne has recorded a Human League cover and all of it would be funny if it weren't true.
Lucky for them, then, that Erasure never really went away. Their peculiar brand of anthemic Europop lament made Vince Clarke and Andy Bell unlikely pinup stars in the late '80s, and with sexual mores bending, Bell's flamboyant homosexuality helped to earn the gay rights movement more than "A Little Respect." Subsequent recordings throughout the '90s saw the electronic duo digging deeper into innovative ambience, but always keeping one toe in the singsongy histrionics that earned them their fans.
"Well, we've pretty much done our own thing all the time," says Clarke on the phone from New York, where the group is playing a string of 10 sold-out shows at Irving Plaza. "I mean, we've never been very good at following trends."
But they are very good at crafting solid records, as evidenced on Nightbird, their current offering, released earlier this year. It's a return to form for the band, whose last original studio record (2000's drearily ambient Loveboat) wasn't even released stateside until three years after its U.K. release.
"We never thought that we would stop," says Clarke of the ominous portents of Loveboat. "It's only on reflection that you look back and say that you thought the album that you just made was a bit somber. When you do it, you think it's the best thing since sliced bread."
A covers record (Other People's Songs) and a best-of compilation followed, giving further credence to the murmurs that the duo was being put to pasture. According to Clarke, precisely the opposite was happening.
"The last album that we recorded was the cover songs album, and I think it really gave us a taste for wanting to sit down and write our own material again. There's no greater satisfaction to be had than writing your own songs," says Clarke.
"We both had lots of ideas to bring to the table. I think that we might have gotten a bit lazy. We weren't pushing the boundaries as much as we should have. On this album we were fresh."
The album, so far, hasn't broken any sales records (it's barely broken the charts), but as with many vintage acts, Erasure do much better on the road. That's where Bell's flamboyance something that Clarke insists is just for the stage explodes in a hysterical mess of feathers and codpieces that ratchets up whatever notion you might have about the limits of "musical theater."
"The concept is built around an enchanted forest, and we have these kind of characters: We have a couple of Marilyn Monroes and a couple of Elvis Presleys," says Clarke. "And, um, Andy ends up in his underpants as usual."