Photo by Dirk Linder"I was just watching Nickelodeon and saw these adverts for children's albums you can buy, with 'Hallelujah' and all this rubbish," says Andy Bell, on the phone from a New York City hotel, where Erasure were preparing for a sold-out 10-night engagement at Irving Plaza.
So why is the flamboyant British singer sharing his ire over mail-order commercials? We've been chatting about gay rights and how "moral values" are creeping into everything these days. Bell—who formed the influential synth-pop group in 1985 with former Depeche Mode keyboardist Vince Clarke, and who is best known for the hits "Chains of Love" and "A Little Respect"—was one of the first openly gay pop stars in Britain at a time when others such as George Michael and Neil Tennant were still in the closet.
Although the gay community made strides in the '90s, public tolerance levels for out music artists have apparently decreased in the wake of Dubya's re-election. "I heard the Scissor Sisters played a late-night talk show here [recently] and got hate mail and death threats," says Bell. "If the general public really knew the truth about the gay [population], it wouldn't be the 10 percent in the Kinsey Report; it would be more like 30 percent."
After San Francisco issued marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples last year, Bell thought "the floodgates had been opened. Then they were promptly shut. I think it's ridiculous. It's the same thing in the U.K.—the talk about splitting the Church of England because of ordaining homosexual priests. I think the church is quite empty of human values. It's all about . . . keeping everybody in their place and playing by their rules. At the same time, there's no compassion or forgiveness whatsoever."
Politics aside, Erasure's loyal, diverse and open-minded fans still flock to their concerts, despite the lack of a bona fide U.S. hit since "Always" in 1994 (the vocalist says he's grateful for continued dance club DJ support and the Internet). At an Erasure show, spectacle is king—Bell often rivals Cher in the costume department (check out the Broadway-styled DVD TheTank,theSwanandtheBalloonfrom the 1992 PhantasmagoricalEntertainmenttour).
At a rare local gig next week, Erasure will have a stage set designed to look like an inflatable forest. Bell is a big Elvis Presley fan and wanted to have a '70s-styled jump suit made, but ended up settling for something that's "a cross between Elvis and a matador with rhinestones. I make my entrance as a white angel."
That's fitting, since their warm, luxurious new album Nightbirdcontains some of Bell's most graceful vocals to date. The pair wrote songs together at Clarke's pad in Brooklyn for a change (typically, they're in different countries) and worked with a new husband/wife team on vocal arrangements. Bell says he and Clarke had been complacent about songwriting in the past; this time, they penned loads of material and were more "aware of melody."
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Ever candid, Bell admits to creatively coasting on the past few studio albums. He describes 1995's Erasureas "quite drug-fueled," while he "wasn't that inspired by Cowboyand Loveboat."
Erasure has several upcoming projects on tap to commemorate their 20th anniversary, including a new acoustic album of lesser-known tracks and a collection of lullabies. Bell's been logging studio time with dance collective Manhattan Clique for a solo project that he promises will be both a reinvention of sorts (akin to Gwen Stefani) and really hi-NRG club-oriented. Scissor Sisters' Jake Spears is expected to make a cameo.
Bell doesn't foresee Erasure stopping any time soon. "I'm looking forward to being onstage at 80 years old, like Frank Sinatra," he says.
ERASURE WITH ELKLAND AT THE GROVE OF ANAHEIM, 2200 E. KATELLA AVE., ANAHEIM, (714) 712-2700. WED., 8 P.M. $35.