Erasure has always been a favourite of mine, they have stayed with me through the years, a constant, an old friend. I felt comfortable in Vince and Andy’s world, a world I have frequented since I was 12. Erasure appealed not just because I loved their music, they also offered (Thanks to their record label Mute) various versions of their songs to collect, be it on multiple UK 12″ and CD Singles, to imports and various limited editions. I tried to collect them all! I have seen them live many times, travelled all over to see them. I would say that I have invested more time and money in Erasure than any other music act, this doesn’t make me any more of a fan than the next, but I like to think it explains my relationship with the band and their music.
So why are a band I obviously love in a post about the most disappointing release of 2016?
In 2015, Always – The Very Best Of Erasure, a 3 disc set that offered a decent choice of singles and remixes worked as a set for new and old fans alike, with the added bonus of a few exclusive tracks for the completest, (one of these being a 2015 version of breakout hit Sometimes released as a single). It was an opportunity to replace Total Pop! – The First 40 Hits a compilation released back in 2009 now BMG had the publishing rights. It made sense to see a new ‘best of’ released. The following year fans saw reissues of Erasures albums on vinyl (some for the very first time), the 30th Anniversary celebrations were ramping up!
In July 2016, through the Erasure (EIS) Newsletter, Erasure announced they were working on a box set anthology, called From Moscow To Mars with a release expected in the Autumn.
The main announcement arrived September 1st, again through the Erasure (EIS) Newsletter, detailing a set that would include 12 discs covering singles, b-sides, live and unreleased tracks. Additionally there would be a DVD, book and some prints. Alongside this information was the track listing, and this is where the problems start.
Mute/BMG released Always-The Very Best Of Erasure 30th October 2015. Only one year will have passed between this somewhat thorough compilation and the new Anthology. Was it right to assume the 2015 compilation was for the regular fan? If it was, then surely a 13 disc, 30 year celebrating, all singing, all dancing box set would be for the hard-core fan, the completest? The answer for me , is no! This is a set that benefits the ‘normal’ fan, in fact, I would go as far to say From Moscow To Mars is perfect for the Erasure virgin! Let me try to explain why.
First off we have ‘The Singles’, a three disc set that includes, as Richard from EIS states in the September 2016 newsletter, ‘every one of the bands entire singles output’. Sadly that is just not true, its missing as many as 6 tracks that were singles. These are Sometimes 2015, A Little Respect [HMI Redux], Always 2009, Oh L’Amour [August Mix], Who Needs Love (Like That) [Hamburg Mix] and Phantom Bride 2009. To be fair, the HMI Redux of A Little Respect was a charity single released to help Hetrick-Martin Institute (HMI), an organisation devoted to helping lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or questioning youth in New York City, because of this, and it’s potential for fundraising, I can exclude it. Irrespective of being remixed or a new version of a previously released single, (only Phantom Bride had not seen a single release in any form), if it was a single, include it. To make matters worse, there are issues with some of the tracks, namely Heavenly Action and It Doesn’t Have To Be are the album versions and not the single edits, additionally, All This Time Still Falling Out Of Love is also the album version and not the original mix. Worst of all we have a mastering error, there are a couple of seconds clipped off the beginning of the single version of Elevation.
Back in February 2016, via the EIS, fans voted for their favourite B-Sides. The results of which would create the track list for a two disc set to appear in a forthcoming box set. (not known as From Moscow To Mars at this point). Erasure has some fantastic B-sides and a compilation has long been a subject of fan discussion. As promised, included in the set are two discs consisting of 36 B-sides, ‘as chosen by Erasure Information Service members’. I have no issues with the tracks included, it makes for a great listen, but looking at the overall track listing of From Moscow To Mars across the twelve audio discs, there is an easy way to include ALL the B-sides from the last 30 years. I’ll come to that soon!
Two discs of remixes, including six new to this set are in the Anthology. Opinions differ massively on what makes a remix good or not. For me, the new remixes are distinctly average, with only Vince Clarke’s reinterpretation of ‘Waiting For The Day’ not suffering insult of the ‘skip’ button after their first play. As for the original remixes, some decent selections, with the William Orbit remix of Supernature being a firm favourite. It was that remix that got me into Orbit, triggering another collecting obsession (but that’s for another post). Ideally what the EIS should have done was not do a vote for favourite B-Sides, instead ask us to vote for our favourite remixes. I’m sure I can speak for all Erasure fans and state that we wanted all the B-sides in this anthology. A strong fan voted 2 or 3 disc set of remixes would be very interesting. (I bet we wouldn’t end up with the extended mix of A Little Respect AGAIN!)
Erasure By Vince Clarke And Andy Bell
An interesting idea, but a complete waste of two discs in my opinion. Here we have ‘a playlist each from Vince Clarke and Andy Bell, featuring the songs they consider their personal favourites from across the Erasure songbook’. The two discs offer nothing new to the Erasure fan, what is missing is why Vince and Andy chose the tracks they did. A better way of supplying fans with this information, would be to have these playlists printed in the box set. It would be great to hear why Andy Bell likes the acoustic version of Boy or Here I go Impossible Again, so much so it’s included in the box set twice. (Both appear on disc 3 of the singles) I’d love to know why Vince chose such a surprisingly down tempo playlist. This could all be done as a printed playlist with both Vince and Andy adding an informative paragraph explaining their choices.
In printing their playlists, we know have two free discs that could be used to introduce the missing B-sides!
Rare and Unreleased
The one gem from the set, a single disc of rarities that I can find no fault with. Vince and Andy have always said that they really do not hoard material, if they start it, they finish it or erase it. So to have 19 tracks on this CD is a wonderful bonus. They may not all be new to me, but it’s exactly the sort of thing that I wanted in the box set.
Covering 1987 to 2011, and completely missing contributions from the Tiny Tour, The Cowboy Concerts, The Other Tour, Total Pop! Tour and The Violet Flame Tour, this is a disappointing disc. It’s a jumble of tracks, from all periods in their career. It could have worked as a career spanning ‘best of’, you would be able to hear the young Andy of ’87 and the voice slowly deepen as we get towards 2011. But here, the tracks fade in and out, not mixed together to create that live experience. For me it would have been better to of added a full show, (would the Milton Keynes Bowl audio as broadcast by Radio 1 be available to licence?). If that was not possible, maybe the first ever live gig. So many options, but this random track from random shows approach doesn’t work for me.
A Little Respect – 30 Years Of Erasure (Audio Documentary)
This is really only worth listening to once! I know I sound incredibly negative, but this would be better suited either as an audio track on the DVD, or as a streamed preorder bonus that could be accessed via the official website.
The Wild! Tour (DVD)
Hurrah, Wild! on DVD for the first time! This is what we’ve all been waiting for…the holy grail for Erasure fans!
Apart from its now 2016, and a DVD with VHS image quality, of a show from 1989 that I have watched hundreds of time on VHS does not excite me. I’m not sure where Erasure and the EIS got the idea that this was a good idea. The bonus backstage footage is nice to see, but this is, all in all, a wasted opportunity. As with most of this set, this DVD seems to miss the point of what the box is celebrating. How about including the DVD (or Blu-ray if possible) of the Milton Keynes Bowl concert? This was by far the biggest show Erasure performed, in front of 60,000 people, broadcast live on Radio 1. (Which at the time was a big deal!).
The Book, The Bits & Pieces and the Packaging
The box is way too big, I have no need for the passport or the stamps, the art prints are somewhat low quality and don’t get me started on the book. The book in the Anthology looks lovely until you open it, grainy low resolution images, minimal text apart from a hard to read Q&A in the back. This is where the Vince and Andy playlist discussion should have gone. This is where all the beautiful album covers displayed in all their hi-res glory can sit across the page from the designs for Andy Bells outrageous costumes that he wore on stage. How about a detailed write-up on the synths Vince Clarke uses? I could go on, the book, sadly is such a wasted opportunity.
If people have a look at the latest David Bowie box set, that is more what I would have liked to of seen. A robust small box, that can hold 20 discs and a book full of informational treasure.
Kendall Reviews: Conclusion
‘From Moscow To Mars’ is a box set released to celebrate 30 years of Erasure. To do that you need 30 years worth of content, not some of the singles, some of the b-sides, modern remixes that the fans may not like, a live disc that doesn’t make you feel like you’re at a show, a DVD of a gig most fans have had on VHS for 25 years.
For me this set should have had as an absolute minimum…
- All of Erasures albums on CD, ideally remastered.
- All of the singles
- All of the B-sides
- The same Rare and Unreleased already included in ‘From Moscow To Mars’
- Milton Keynes Bowl Live DVD/Blu-ray/CD
- Remix compilation as voted for by the fans,
That right there, is 30 years of Erasure to me. I could go on and suggest that Mute/BMG could have tried to licence other tracks (Under The Looking Glass Sea, Rage, Too Darn Hot) or could have collated some of the promo only remixes , (Love To Hate You [JT Vannelli Remix]) as an example, but I understand this all costs money, and would increase the box costs.
Yes, at the end of the day I have been extremely critical of this set, I’m first a fan, a devoted, loyal, passionate fan. This was the box set that would be the greatest Erasure treasure in among the many gems of my collection. It’s supposed to draw a line under 30 years of performance, 30 years of memories, but it’s content leaves you wanting more and not in a good way. It’s missing too much content! The music in the Anthology is wonderful, you cannot deny that, and to the newcomer this is Erasure perfection. Apart from the Rare and Unreleased disc, there really is no reason for me to dig out this box set from my collection. I just wish before compiling, someone from Mute/BMG asked the fans what they would want from such a product.
From Moscow To Mars gives the average fan about four discs worth of new material, leaving us with 70% which we already have. When you consider the asking price for this set is £85, does that seem like good value for money to you?
Erasures 30 successful years in the music industry is something to celebrate, the build up to this box set, from Who Needs Love Like That in 1985 to Sometimes 2015 has been a long and winding road that has seen them release 16 albums, have 24 consecutive Top 40 hits in the UK, 3 Top 20 hits in the US. Erasure has seen 34 of their 45 singles and EPs made the UK Top 40, with 17 making the Top 10. Now that is something to celebrate! At the end of that road, From Moscow to Mars is a bit of an anti climax, and Erasure deserve so much more than that!