Vince Clarke was a founding member principle songwriter for one of the most important and influential synth pop bands in history, Depeche Mode. When you consider that along with accomplishments ranging from the early days of Yazzu/Yaz and the long list of charting hits produced with Andy Bell as Erasure, it’s reasonable to have high expectations for anything he might release. But much of the duo’s work as of late has tended toward the fairly pedestrian end of the synth pop spectrum. Unfortunately, World Be Gone is seemingly just as uninspiring.

The strength of every Erasure record is Clarke’s production and musicality. His game is strong with respect to weaving deeply-layered electronic melodies that manage to sound sparkly and bright despite their complexity. Bell contrasts that complexity with a deliberately overwrought and dramatic singing style and themes which center around love, relationships and a particularly pointed, even simplistic, expression of both. Album opener “Love You to the Sky” is a good example of this. The organic drumming and constant bass line give the track an earnestness that would probably work best with a downplayed and emotional sentiment. Instead, we get Bell’s cringe-inducing delivery of, “I want to be near you, baby /I want to kiss you, baby/And you blow me away….” They seem more out of balance here than on any previous record. On “Be Careful What You Wish For,” a slower more emotional track that allows them to build on their strengths a little bit better, we still get some regrettably cheesy lyrics. But at this point we almost need to accept that as part of the signature of the band.

On the bright side, Erasure still tend to nail a powerful pop hook. While the vocals give pretty much all of the melodies on the album a sort of meandering and formless soul – it’s a “love it or hate it” sort of quality – but they’re grounded by solid pop choruses which in most cases is the highlight of each track. On “Lousy Sum of Nothing” they use the backing vocal solo samples to great effect, giving a certain depth to the track despite the rather vacuous lyrics – “And I don’t know what we’ve become/ Don’t recognize the world as one/ Reads like a sordid affair/ People don’t know how to care.” Certainly one can see the intent in trying to express a common sentiment of concern about the state of the world in 2017, but if Erasure has one fault it’s that they bring nothing new to the dialogue. Many of the sentiments on the record seem shallow and contrived, possibly because of the simple fact that they’re delivered with such overwrought drama.

The album isn’t comfortable on the dance floor; it’s not really going to rumble any bass bins and it comes off as more of an easy listening experience for pop tarts. You could of course argue that, because it is pop music, it’s not important that it say anything meaningful. Instead, it can be viewed as appealing to something more like simple listening fun or beautifully rendered listening pop. But the album is neither of these. By the time you reach “Just a Little Love,” you realize you’re closing on a track that doesn’t differ significantly from anything else on the album. There’s really nothing here of note outside the well-produced electronic music. But this is an Erasure record, not a Vince Clarke record, so it must be evaluated on its outcome, not its intent. The outcome here is simply not very interesting.

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