Erasure’s Winter Wonderland
Electro duo Erasure have a new CD out just in time for the holidays. "Snow Globe" includes both traditional songs and some original music.
Asked about the melancholy tone of the collection of songs, singer Andy Bell discussed Snow Globe in a phone interview from London.
"I think it just turned out that way," said Bell. "The songs that we chose, apart from 'White Christmas,' which is really a classic song -- the others were quite maudlin. It gave us a sense of forgotten nostalgia, like 'It's a Wonderful Life,' like a black and white movie."
The album release was preceded by its first single, "Gaudete," Erasure's distinctive take on the Medieval Latin carol, which was also a folk hit for Steeleye Span in 1973.
Covers of traditional holiday songs like "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear," and "Silent Night" offer somber takes on the holiday classics arranged by Bell and Vince Clarke.
Other songs incorporate their familiar style, as with "Make It Wonderful," which offers an uplifting theme and lyrics while keeping consistent with the mid-range tempo of the other more somber songs. The duo's arrangement of "Silver Bells" is most appropriate for the beautifully metallic sound of Erasure.
Although the CD's theme is focused on the holidays, Bell noted, "It was fun having free reign on the production and backing vocals."
Five original tracks compliment the classic songs, with "Gaudete" being a combination of ancient music with a new arrangement. The electric beat and reworking of the Latin verse are complimented by the haunting stop-motion animated music video.
Reminiscent of the 1960s Rankin-Bass holiday specials like "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," Bell said that while he's familiar with the U.S. TV shows, "It reminds me of the Eastern European style children's shows. We love that kind of animation, and there were quite a lot of similar children's programs in the U.K. Some of them are really scary, actually."
Set in a snow-covered, destroyed gothic church where a trio of mysterious monks find a special treasure, Bell and Clarke let director Martin Meunier ("Coraline," "James and the Giant Peach") have free reign, and said he found it "quite poignant. I thought perhaps the church was going to come back to life completely, but it remains half broken down."
It is this song in particular which perhaps exemplifies a quandary for the openly gay singer.
"The video perhaps says a lot about what's going on with organized religions," said Bell. Although the song's translated lyrics are quite Christian ("God has become man, To the wonderment of Nature, The world has been renewed By the reigning Christ."), Bell remains realistic about his perspective.
"I think it's changed, a lot of gay people have changed their perspectives [on religion] because we've been through so much, being locked out because of who we fall in love with. Frankly, it's their loss."
A student at a Catholic school as a child (the British term is a 'cathedral school'), Bell clarified, "I'm not anti-religious. We sang hymns, and I was a choir boy. I loved going there, and bought into the Christmas songs. Now, I think just because you don't belong to a certain faith doesn't mean you cant appreciate its music."
That music like "Gaudete" and Gregorian chants have remained for centuries is, Bell said, "Quite amazing. We've done 'Ave Maria' live. A lot of these proses really do have a powerful incantation-like spell, because they've been performed for thousands of years. But I do tend to lean toward more Pagan aspects."
Asked about British holiday traditions that he enjoys, Bell said that compared to American celebrations of excess, "ours are more like a small birthday party. It's changed over the years, and has a lot to do with Queen Victoria, back when Christmas cards became popular. I still don't know what the crackers [paper prizes] are about."
Along with performing radio shows in the U.K., Bell and Clarke and planning to tour the U.S. by September 2014. Until then, celebrate the sweetly somber side of the holidays with "Snow Globe."