Nearing Erasure‘s 30th anniversary, vocalist Andy Bell and keyboardist Vince Clarke needed a jolt of fresh inspiration for their 16th album. Having recorded a country diversion (2006′s Union Street), a back-to-basics effort (2007′s Light at the End of the World), a futuristic record (2011′s Tomorrow’s World), and a melancholy Christmas disc (2013′s Snow Globe), the synthpop duo here partner with Richard X, the U.K. dance dynamo who parlayed mashups into a hugely successful production career in which he’s created smash after smash for countless overseas stars like Sugababes, Annie and Will Young. The Violet Flame is Erasure’s take on unabashedly au courant pop.
Having scored literally two dozen consecutive U.K. Top 40 hits from 1986-2007, Erasure wield so much influence on their country’s current dance sounds that the difference between what they’ve always done and what their stylistic offspring create today largely comes down to bass. From the expectant opening of “Dead of Night” to final piano chord of “Stayed a Little Late Tonight,” X brings EDM’s wallop as a counterweight to the duo’s twinkly treble.
Aside from the devotional ballad “Be the One” and the darker, conciliatory “Smoke and Mirrors,” nearly all of The Violet Flame aims to reintroduce the duo to both the charts and the dance floor. Driven by nearly nonstop hooks and rhythms, this is Erasure’s most instantly accessible work since they last hit the U.S. Top 20 with 1994′s “Always.” That’s not always a good thing: Rather than singing a fully fleshed-out chorus, Bell repeatedly stutters the title of “Dead of Night,” and that shortcut to immediate memorability soon grates.
Beyond that initial misstep, though, there’s plenty of classic Erasure craft here. Some of their most buoyant grooves contain subtle allusions to heavy subject matter, and on “Elevation,” they celebrate optimism’s light while acknowledging darker social forces: “What are we supposed to do/ When the fate of many is guided by the hands of few?”
But mostly there are love songs, some uplifting and spiritual (“Reason,” “Sacred”) some understated and fretful (“Under the Wave,” “Stayed a Little Light Tonight”). Despite the emphasis on voguish beats, Bell sings more assuredly than he has in years, and Clarke’s keyboard melodies seem similarly effortless. The contemporaneousness of The Violet Flame never yanks Erasure out of their comfort zone.