There is much anticipation when the lead singer of a well-known band releases music on their own. Out of the band’s context and often with a different producer, the results can be comparably similar, wildly different or, if you’re lucky, magical. While comparisons to his active role as one half of Erasure are inevitable (they’d have to be) Andy Bell—one of the world’s most underrated vocalists—has captured the magic on his second solo album, the sublime Non-Stop. The secret here, besides Bell’s ability to always create a hummable chorus, is his willingness to experiment with his vocals.
Collaborating with veteran pop producer Pascal Gabriel (who also co-wrote the album), Bell distances himself from his work with Erasure music partner Vince Clarke by deliberately making a tight set of full-on club tracks. Erasure, who are highly regarded for their mid-tempo balladry, skillfully balance their song craft between the ballad and the occasional disco stomper, but are mainly regarded as a synth pop duo. Bell even went so far as first releasing the album’s first two singles, “Running Out” and “Will You Be There?”, under the pseudonym Mimo but due to a someone else legally owning that name, had to settle for his own. It is easy to see why he’d want to do this: musical typecasting. In today’s rather predictably fickle music world--where everything gets compared to everything else—the mere mention of the name Erasure could arguably make the lazy critic pre-judge this. And that’s a shame, since Non-Stop is so listenable and accessible and above all, different.
“Running Out” kicks things into gear immediately as Bell’s vocal starts out partially distorted and the beat quickly joins him and his other grand skill—his undeniably catchy choruses—drops and watch out. This formula is evident on each of the album’s ten tracks, and the divine recently-released single “Call On Me” is no exception. “Wasted time to pass away the midnight hour/smoking on the inside of the bar/went to save the robots, they were everywhere/Ronnie saw a man shot in the head,” Bell cryptically announces as a delicious chorus swirls around him and then later his voice actually turns robotic. It is another great track and we’re only two songs into the album.
The eloquent bridge of “Subject/Object” reminds me of Erasure’s cover/collaboration of Spark’s “Amateur Hour” (which is a compliment) but is very much its own grand creation. Assumed next single “Say What You Want” is equally thrilling, and Gabriel is quite adept in helping Bell produce the music to match the mood: the beat simply never wavers. For my money, the last album that consistently begged for the remixing treatment like these songs are was Madonna’s Confessions On A Dancefloor, and it isn’t surprising that Bell has stated Madonna’s willingness to distort her vocals was an inspiration to him. It seems to be about what vocal style works best for each song. The fore-mentioned “Will You Be There?” is a great example with Bell’s addictive humming leading to his overdubbed vocal effortlessly marrying the addictive chorus.
Madonna isn’t Bell’s only inspiration and the very catchy “DHDQ” is literally about Debbie Harry drag queens, whom Bell paints compliments to by singing “I love your sense of fashion/pure virgin with a criminal heart,” before the simple yet very effective chorus drums itself into your brain. Kudos must be given to Bell for coloring his lyrics outside of the lines. “Touch” is about reality show contestants and the album’s sole slower cut “Slow Release” seems to be about being stuck (both financially and emotionally) but nonetheless fits nicely here because of its subtle rhythm track and Bell’s arresting vocal performance.
Perhaps the most anticipated track is the seemingly odd marriage of Bell and Jane’s Addiction frontman Perry Farrell on the album’s closer, Honey If You Love Him (That’s All That Matters). It seems that Bell fan Farrell wrote and presented the song to him and what seems logistically like an odd pairing, it actually quite listenable and enjoyable. Not only does it work, it works quite well as a male/male duet with Farrell’s signature speak-singing complimenting Bell’s distorted vocals nicely. “What he put you through, truth is he was so far beneath you,” chides Farrell and later, “Oh I know how it goes in one ear out the other,” as Bell’s heavenly voice rides the melody into the disco inferno. The iTunes exclusive download also boasts Bell’s cover of Madonna’s early demo “Cosmic Climb” and as he has stated recently there is an electro and punk rock quality to this track that works well with his style.
Non-Stop was released on CD and as a digital download on June 8th. Erasure are also presently at work on their new studio album.