Evergreen Joy

| 17 Feb 2015 | 12:58

Erasure turns seasonal songs into radical praise At Christmas time we forget that seasonal songs can also be praise songs. This comes clear in Erasure's new release Snow Globe, a Christmas album built around the tradition vs. modernity tension of the holiday season--and yet an evergreen subject. Praise songs suit singer-lyricist Andy Bell, one of pop music's most romantic drama queens, whose teamwork with composer Vince Clarke made Erasure Britain's most exultant synth-pop duo. (Erasure's percolatingle "Star" asked the very disco question, "In Whose hands are we anyway?") On Snow Globe, Bell answers the query by singing Christmas songs with feeling and awareness within Clarke's tasteful and deeply-imaginative arrangements. Their project opposes fashionable cynicism, demonstrating how their usual gay and dance-pop sensibility complements the traditional emotions and values of Christmas thought that many carelessly put in conflict with contemporary gay life.

Snow Globe's Beauty? It confronts the birth of Christ--the miraculous gift of love and salvation--with the complexity of human desire.

The opening track "Bells of Love" calls for compassion and forgiveness in a world lacking them: "People hiding in the shadows/ people stumbling in the dark/ Angry shouts and accusations/ Broken dreams and broken hearts/ What we want, what we need is a touch of the Healing Hands/ With a little emotion/ Can you hear the bells of love?/ One day they'll be loud enough/ Someday all the world will hear them ringing."

Erasure fans will recognize the terms of Bell's clarion call:  familiar phrasings, apercu, rhymes but most of all Erasure's intensely romantic longing that triumphantly transcended gender in the 80s and 90s. Snow Globe (titled after an item inspiring fantasy, hope and recall) suggests a world transformed by Love not unlike Godard's updated, atavistic, mythic 1985 Hail, Mary!

Snow Globe's traditional carols and new compositions all take place in the cathedral of the world, dance clubs (the superb "Loving Man") and cloisters ("Sleep Quietly") where "merry gentlemen" pace their physical desire and emotional longing and spiritual search. That's why Clarke and Bell playact as radio Djs in the bonus disc called "The Erasure Christmas Radio Show." Their gospel intent is to bring "good news."

Their news bulletin "Bells of Love" is followed by a 16th century Latin hymn, "Gaudete." The old Erasure oomph is not campy here and listeners will feel utter grace in the sensitive harmonies and almost hocketing purity of Erasure's "Silent Night," the finest rendition--and reexamination--of that standard since pop stars first hollowed it out as a commercial staple.

Erasure finds new richness in this album's sacred/secular overlap ("Wherever it leads me I have to believe in a bigger plan/?I'm all in a whirl/ I'm a boy I'm a girl who has everything") furthering the potential for discipleship in gay life. This is a major advance in gay culture and politics but it also develops from the self-examination of gay Christians (like Melinda Selmys and Jeff Chu) who eschew the bitterness of un-GLAAD public spokesmen.