Erasure unplugged? It’s an idea that would have raised an awful lot of eyebrows fifteen years ago, when sad, black-clad girls all over the world pushed albums like Chorus to the top of the charts. In 2006, though, Union Street isn’t much more than a tastefully built curio for the duo’s hardcore faithful.
The track selection is pleasantly left-field, focusing mainly on deep cuts and b-sides, which makes the album both more than just another stopgap release (something with which Erasure has become well acquainted over the past decade or so). It also renders Union Street irrelevant for pretty much anybody who isn’t already a fan — but then, Erasure has moved well past the point where serious efforts to expand its audience make much sense.
Parts of the record are actually a lot of fun: “Boy” (download) and “Piano Song” (download) lead off the album with a sort of melancholy hoedown vibe. It doesn’t last, but even at their most wan and lugubrious, these new arrangements reveal Vince Clarke and Andy Bell as the unflinchingly sentimental melody junkies they’ve been all along. Many of Erasure’s peers relied on synthesized noise to disguise poorly or barely-written material, but on Union Street, stripped of their additional accoutrements, the songs hold up almost uniformly well.
Recent Erasure releases have increasingly borne the scent of evaporating creative fumes — and the release of Union Street certainly does nothing to wave it away. But it does make a surprisingly convincing case for Clarke and Bell as the Carole Bayer Sager and Burt Bacharach of the ’80s electronic crowd.