sanctuary records | san382 | 03/10/2005
Andy Bell‘s debut solo album was produced with Manhattan Clique (Philip Larsen and Chris Smith), who had remixed tracks from Erasure‘s Other People’s Songs and who supported the duo on that album’s tour. That Electric Blue ever got released is something of a surprise – Andy had said in an interview I heard years ago that every time he was asked to do something solo he would panic and invite Vince Clarke along to help (I think he was specifically talking about ‘Rage’, which turned out to be an Erasure collaboration with Lene Lovich for PETA). Other People’s Songs itself apparently started life as an Andy solo project of cover versions, but became a standout Erasure album instead. Electric Blue was released on Sanctuary; presumably the EMI-backed Mute balked at the idea of a solo project from an artist they didn’t deem bankable, despite Bell’s twenty-year tenure with Daniel Miller‘s label.
The principal problem with Electric Blue is that it’s about four tracks too long, giving rise to some torrid filler like ‘Shaking My Soul’ and ‘Delicious’. At times there’s a sense of Andy Bell operating outside of his comfort zone, which is fine, but the results seem to have a reliance on fluffy, inconsequential lyrics on some of the more upbeat tracks. A long time ago, I remember Bell being interviewed on TV and saying how much he admired the way a track like Blondie’s ‘Atomic’ deliberately avoided substance in its lyrics; well, some of the results here are definitely throwaway, but in Bell’s case it’s not necessarily the best example of his lyric writing by a long stretch, though the genre he was operating in here – music for dancing in neon-lit Soho clubs I guess – wouldn’t necessarily tend toward lyrical depth particularly.
After a brief introduction consisting of vocal loops and building synths like clouds gathering on a sunny day, Electric Blue kicks into gear with ‘Caught In A Spin’, a Latin-house sequence of odd couplets and throwaway lines, flamenco flourishes and a chorus spiced with something dark and dangerous, a bit like dancing on a hot summer’s night. One of the best of the upbeat tracks here, ‘Caught In A Spin’ is relentless, urgent and hypnotic. Another of the best songs here is the title track, which includes some very Vince synths, dark, murmuring bass line and detuned beat. Andy here goes for robotic singing about S&M gear and buying uniforms, delivering a pre-chorus that references dancing to ‘Supernature’ (which Erasure covered) and opts for a darkly euphoric chorus which straddles a high energy style with more elastic techno sounds. ‘See The Lights Go Out’ also includes lots of nice electronic noises that Vince would approve of, and actually is not dissimilar to something Erasure would produce today. The track includes a retro disco element to the rhythm and Andy’s vocals have a pained, anguished element which gives the song some welcome depth.
Electric Blue features collaborations with Propaganda’s Claudia Brücken (‘Love Oneself’ and ‘Delicious’) and head Scissor Sister Jake Shears (‘Thought It Was You’ and ‘Shaking My Soul’). ‘Love Oneself’, despite its dubious, onanistic title finds Brücken’s breathy vocal totally dominating proceedings, almost rendering Bell surplus to requirements, a bit like the person who sets up a threesome and finds himself on the sidelines of the bedroom. Fortunately, the music – high energy sounds with a rolling bassline, 303-esque synth ripples and whooshing noises – is interesting enough. The second Brücken collaboration, ‘Delicious’, features some nice Vince-style synths but falls short in the lyrics department; Bell and Brücken deliver a stream of bland clichés that make for a pretty dull song overall. The only saving grace is a riff that reminds me of that Alex Party track from years ago which in turn reminds me of some good nights out. Otherwise ‘Delicious’ is reasonably needless.
If the tracks with Brücken were patchy, the collaborations with Jake Shears are still harder to listen to. ‘Thought It Was You’, something of a battle of the falsettos, is a very Seventies disco number, straight out of Ian Schrager’s Studio 54. The song is very classically disco, with lots of handclaps and wah-wah guitar, but something about Shears’ vocal is ridiculous and way too high, much like pretty much everything Scissor Sisters have ever done. Meanwhile, on ‘Shaking My Soul’ you’d be forgiven for missing Shears’ contribution to this upbeat, soulful but generally throwaway piece of summery pop since it’s all but inaudible. The track features lyrics dealing with jealousy and promiscuity, a theme that is also mined on the far better ‘Jealous’.
The album includes a couple of ballads, both of which are good even if they sit somewhat uncomfortably next to the more upbeat dance tracks. ‘Fantasy’ is a plaintive, Erasure-esque ballad, with lots of jangly acoustic guitar, a big trademark chorus and more articulate lyrics from Andy. There’s a soulful piano and string section that sounds a little like a Barry White ballad; there are also occasional Latin flourishes and plenty of trademark ‘woahs’ from Andy, while a melodic line not dissimilar from ‘Rock Me Gently’ sometimes creeps in. The album’s closer, ‘The Rest Of Our Lives’ is another big ballad, being a gentle love song and a typically Erasure-esque closer, at least lyrically. Musically it’s not a patch on anything Vince and Andy could achieve together, being a bit wet and flimsy (the last two bars are the most interesting). Still, it nevertheless retains a nice, emotional dimension even if it sounds too ‘organic’ and traditional-sounding for Andy’s vocal. The ballads, oddly placed though they might be, perhaps suggests this is what Andy is best at rather than flogging the disco horse elsewhere on Electric Blue.
Electric Blue was clearly a departure for Andy Bell, a brave move after years as Erasure’s frontman, and any issues with the songs generally stem from the production which doesn’t stand up terribly well today. Mercifully, Bell was undeterred by Electric Blue‘s limited commercial success, with 2010’s Non-Stop with Pascal Gabriel being a much more solid, accomplished business.
First published 2005; re-edited 2015.
(c) 2015 Mat Smith / Documentary Evidence