(#365: 30 April 1988, 1 week; 14 January 1989, 1 week)
Track listing: A Little Respect/Ship Of Fools/Phantom Bride/Chains Of Love/Hallowed Ground/Sixty-Five Thousand/Heart Of Stone/Yahoo!/Imagination/Witch In The Ditch/Weight Of The World
(Author’s Note: both the cassette and CD editions included two additional songs; “When I Needed You (Melancholic Mix)” and “River Deep, Mountain High (Private Dance Mix).”)
This is the first of five number ones by Erasure, and I have to say almost immediately that there may be a problem. In the early days of I Love Music, somebody – I think it was Dave Q – described the duo as being “scarier than Depeche Mode and catchier than the Pet Shop Boys but sadly not vice versa.” Many people consider Erasure the acme of eighties electropop. I suppose your favourite sixties group might have been the Hollies if you hadn’t heard much else.
The Innocents was their third album, and the first that did anything in the States, and I don’t really get it at all. On a purely melodic basis, the first five or so songs work quite brilliantly – the hits here are definitely frontloaded. There is an appealing sunset poignancy to the bridge of “Chains Of Love” (a sort of Somerfield/Gateway “Being Boring”) and in some of the changes in “Hallowed Ground,” but already I note Andy Bell’s lyrical tendency to begin telling a story and then repeat the beginning and middle over and over without ever coming to a conclusion. If “Hallowed Ground” is meant to be a New Pop “In The Ghetto” then this matters. What actually happens with the girl and boy in “Phantom Bride” we are never told.
It is all very agreeable, if unchallenging, listening until the instrumental sixth track turns up, sounding like the theme from a failed daytime television chat show or ‘phone-in. Thereafter we are presented with a plethora of B-sides, songs so dull that I forgot them even while I was listening to them. Unlike Alison Moyet, Bell’s words are so meticulously coded – or only semi-developed – that it’s impossible to grasp the essence of what he is trying to communicate or to empathise with him. “Yahoo!” takes us to church, rather questionably, and both that and the two songs which follow it include lyrics worthy of Iron Maiden (“Heart Of Stone” warns against looking in the “eyes of Medusa”).
Eventually the album tails off in an uninteresting aesthetic backwater. Do these songs constitute a kind of protest, an ironic methodology? Possibly the saddest answer to that question is that I stopped caring enough to wonder whether or not they did. Stephen Hague produces a bright lido filled with ripples of blankness, but really anybody could have done the job. The record has to date sold over five million worldwide and remains their most commercially successful album. My suspicion is that this is Alan Partridge’s idea of electropop, something that sounds nice in the car but falls apart when you pay closer attention to it. In comparison, thirty seconds of Actually made me wonder why they even bothered. Bell does a decent Gahan/Gore impression on “Ship Of Fools” but given that Depeche Mode themselves were at this point capable of things like “Behind The Wheel” and “Never Let Me Down Again” it sounds as though the duo turn away from the song’s wider implications. Yes, I know that it was music like this that paid for You Must Be Certain Of The Devil and Tender Prey. But there is a huge brick wall standing between Erasure and my appreciation of their music, and I’m not sure which of us built it.