Following the disbandment of the short-lived synth pop group Yazoo, former Depeche Mode member Vince Clarke formed Erasure in 1985 with singer Andy Bell. Like Yaz and Depeche Mode, Erasure were a synth-based group, but they had stronger dance inclinations, as well as a sharper, more accessible sense of pop songcraft, than either of Clarke’s previous bands. Furthermore, Erasure had the flamboyantly eccentric Andy Bell — one of the first openly gay performers in pop music — as their focal point. Bell’s keening, high voice and exaggerated sense of theatrically became the band’s defining image. In their native Britain, Erasure were successful from their inception. After a few years, the duo achieved commercial success in America with 1988’s “Chains of Love,” but they remained, in essence, a cult band on both sides of the Atlantic, cultivating a dedicated fan base over the course of their career.
Before forming Erasure, Clarke was one of the founding members of the groundbreaking synth pop outfit Depeche Mode. He left after recording only one album with the group, choosing to form Yaz with Alison Moyet instead. After Yaz released two albums, Moyet left to pursue a solo career. Clarke participated in a short-lived alliance with vocalist Feargal Sharkey and producer Eric Radcliffe called the Assembly in 1984. Following a single with vocalist Paul Quinn, he decided to form Erasure. Clarke placed an advertisement for vocalists in a British music newspaper and received over 40 demo tapes — he selected Bell as his partner.
Released in 1986, Erasure’s first album, Wonderland, received poor reviews and had weak sales upon its release. The duo quickly followed the album with “Sometimes,” a preview from their forthcoming second album. “Sometimes” reached number two on the U.K. charts, beginning a string of successful singles that would run into the ’90s. The Circus, the group’s second album, was released in the spring of 1987 and peaked at number six on the U.K. charts. The Innocents, Erasure’s third album, became their first number one album in Britain upon its release in 1988. The album featured the group’s first American hit, “Chains of Love,” which reached number 12 in the U.S.; its follow-up, “A Little Respect,” peaked at number 14 in America. At the end of 1988, Erasure released the Crackers International EP, which reached number two in Britain.
Erasure’s fourth album, Wild!, appeared in 1989, and like its predecessor, reached number one in the U.K., as did its successor, 1991’s Chorus. Erasure released the Abba-Esque EP, a tribute to the Swedish pop group ABBA, in 1992; it became their first number one single in the U.K. Later that year, Erasure released a compilation of their British singles, Pop! The First 20 Hits. Two years later, the duo released its fifth album, I Say I Say I Say, which featured the hit single “Always,” their first American hit since 1988. Erasure’s eponymous sixth album was released in the fall of 1995. It was followed in the spring of 1997 by Cowboy. Loveboat surfaced three years later. The all-covers Other People’s Songs appeared in 2003, the same year as the oddly chosen compilation Hits! Before the release of 2005’s “return-to-form” album Nightbird, Bell revealed he was HIV positive and had been since June of 1998. The 2006 album Union Street found the duo unplugging and re-recording old album tracks and B-sides with acoustic instruments. A tour with a full band supported the album and was documented on the 2007 live release On the Road to Nashville. Later in the year, another return-to-form album, Light at the End of the World, arrived.
Tomorrow’s World followed in 2011 with the duo handing production over to Frankmusik, whose previous work included Lady Gaga and the Pet Shop Boys. In 2013 they released Snow Globe, a holiday album featuring new songs from the duo along with some classic Christmas carols. A return to their club-oriented work of their earlier years, the dancefloor-ready album The Violet Flame followed in 2014 with production from Richard X. Following celebrations of their 30th anniversary as a band in 2015, the duo released their 17th studio record in 2017. World Be Gone responded to the upheaval of the late 2010s with positive, proactive songs. It was accompanied by a summer stadium tour with Robbie Williams. They returned in early 2018 with World Beyond, a re-recording of World Be Gone arranged for Bell and the Belgian chamber ensemble Echo Collective. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine