"Everything about Christmas has been written already," Erasure synth master Vince Clarke says. "We thought it would be more interesting to look into the darker side of the season. For a lot of people, Christmas is not a happy time."
So says Clarke of Erasure's "Snow Globe," which arrives Nov. 11 on Mute, the act's 27-year label partner. The album contains new original songs with a seasonal twist, while also giving Erasure vocalist Andy Bell the highly fitting opportunity to croon Christmas classics like "Silent Night" and "White Christmas" with Clarke's new, unusually stripped-down and eerie arrangements. For instance, first single "Gaudete" is a dancefloor take on the traditional carol-and possibly the first song sung entirely in Latin to be remixed and serviced to clubs. Elsewhere, the track "Blood on the Snow" starts with a staccato synth waltz, like "Carol of the Bells" performed by an android orchestra from the future. Dark imagery of coal, ash and blood gives way to the hope of a bright guiding star and three humble gifts.
"Andy had the idea for ["Blood on the Snow"] that he sang into his phone late one night and sent me the message," recalls Clarke, who resisted the idea of a holiday album until the pair could devise a unique approach. "It seemed very dark and appropriate for what we were trying to do."
Snow Globe follows 2011's Tomorrow's World-which debuted at No. 61 on the Billboard 200 and has sold 15,000 copies, according to Nielsen SoundScan-and will hold fans over until a new full-length that's expected next fall.
Longtime Erasure manager Michael Pagnotta says, "The minute you say, 'Erasure have recorded a Christmas album,' people already have a pretty good idea" of what it will sound like. And indeed, songs like jubilant second single "Make It Wonderful" and John Lennon-esque ballad "Bells of Love" would fit on any uplifting Erasure album. "But what's surprising," he adds, "is that musically and lyrically there's a darkness that balances out the Christmas vibe."
Along those lines, stop-motion videos for the first two singles, which arrive this month and next, respectively, were made by animators from "Nightmare Before Christmas" creator Tim Burton's studio. "They made puppets of us," Clarke says. "The videos are quite dark." Watch "Gaudete":
On a cheerier note, Clarke and Bell also recorded a mock Christmas variety show, for which Clarke says the duo "got some sherry, talked about our Christmas experiences, played some of our favorite Christmas songs and wore appropriate sweaters." Distribution for the video program is still to be determined, but the audio will be packaged as part of a deluxe direct-to-consumer boxed set that includes bonus remixes, an actual snow globe and other gift pieces. Mute will also sell a CD single of "Gaudete" packaged as a holiday card. Starting Dec. 1, which is World AIDS Day, fan club Erasure Information Service will host an online advent calendar, offering free downloads and other album-related content each day through Christmas.
According to Mute senior director of marketing and sales Nicole Blonder, a holiday album made sense for Erasure because "when you have an artist with a dedicated fan base who are interested in anything they come up with, giving them something like this is an extra gift-something they might have always wanted." Blonder also admits there are promotional challenges ahead. "It's not a straight 100% Christmas album; it's partly a new Erasure album. We want it to live beyond the holiday season," she says. "Once January hits, people get holiday amnesia and don't tend to continue carrying holiday records."
There's also the fact that Erasure will wait until next fall to tour behind its next original full-length. "Touring is always a big factor in most Erasure campaigns," Blonder says, because the duo's ecstatic shows always drive sales and fan engagement. "That's a unique challenge for this album." According to Clarke, Erasure will kick off a 2014 trek with U.K. summer festivals before a larger tour that the act hopes will coincide with a new release and extend into the holiday season, giving Snow Globe's material a new life.
But after nearly 30 years, 15 albums and 3.6 million in SoundScan-era U.S. sales, Clarke (who co-founded Depeche Mode, Yaz and other acts) and Bell have earned the right to plan their own time. Erasure's long-term relationship with Mute and devoted fan base deserve much credit for the duo's longevity, but at its foundation is the strong, steady creative trust between Clarke and Bell.
"Writing together with someone exposes your heart," Clarke says. "It wasn't immediate chemistry with Andy and me, but then we started writing together. If I have a problem with something that Andy's singing or writing, I just say it, and vice versa. He never gets cross. There's never 'No, my idea's better than yours.' It makes for a healthy, ego-less band relationship."