First Published: May 2006
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Erasure have always been full of surprises. In two decades of plugging in and wigging out, Vince Clarke and Andy Bell have sold millions of albums around the world, staged Broadway-style live spectaculars, influenced countless dance, techno and alternative rock acts, and topped the charts with outlandish cover versions. Now their latest album is released and Union Street might be better titled Erasure Unplugged.
On their brand new album Vince and Andy have delivered their biggest surprise yet. In a boldly experimental step for an electronic band, they have unplugged themselves, bringing soulful new depths and acoustic and country-western textures to 11 songs spanning their entire career.
Union Street was recorded in the Brooklyn studio of the same name, which is owned by guitarist Steve Walsh, who previously played on Erasure's 2003 covers collection Other People's Songs and produced Nightbird. Walsh is currently assembling musicians for Erasure's first ever live-band tour. "We found this cool guitarist with a cool studio and decided to use both," says Vince.
The album is dominated by revamped album tracks and born-again B-sides that the band felt were best suited for an extreme makeover. All sound refreshingly different from their original blueprints.

"It was great going back through those songs, some of which I hadn't listened to properly since we made them," Vince recalls. "Suddenly you heard some of the naiveté that was in there in the first place."

The Erasure story began in 1985, when former Depeche Mode founding member Vince advertised to find a singer for his new project. Then just 21, ex-butcher Andy was the 41st candidate that Vince auditioned, but their creative chemistry clicked instantly. Before long, the pair were scoring the first of five number one albums and began racking up an incredible 32 consecutive singles in the UK Top 40. In the process, they became instant alternative favorites on the burgeoning electronic music scene in America.

Despite their cult status, Erasure have always been proudly, defiantly, shamelessly pop - they even named their chart-topping greatest hits collection Pop! in 1992. But behind their impressive sales figures (14 million albums sold to date), pop and dance chart successes and kitsch stage costumes, it has sometimes been overlooked just what consistently great songwriters Vince and Andy have been throughout their career.

Indeed, Andy insists one motivating factor behind Union Street was to "show the songs in a different light, and to show that they could work on any instrument, synthesizer or guitar. Vince agrees: "We just felt there were songs on our albums that had been missed as songs."

Some tracks on Union Street have been completely transformed by their radical new arrangements. "Spiralling," which started life on The Circus in 1987, is now a crisp marriage of finger-picking guitar and melancholy introspection. And "Blues Away," taken from the 1994 album I Say I Say I Say, is a rich, warm, sleepy-eyed strum about yearning for that elusive perfect lover. "It's nearly bedtime, and I'm getting lonely..."

Union Street proves there has always been much more to Vince and Andy than shiny pop thrills. Unplugged, both musically and emotionally, they have never before sounded so graceful or so heartfelt. This is an album full of pleasant surprises. But coming from Erasure, that is no surprise at all.

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