Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

Former Depeche Mode and Yaz member Vince Clarke and singer Andy Bell, who record as Erasure, have reason to rejoice. This is the synth-pop duo's 20th year making beautiful music together.

To honor the anniversary, the pair is releasing its 11th studio album (its 10th of original material). "Nightbird" arrives Jan. 25 in the United States from Mute, a day after its international release.

Mute also released an Erasure concert DVD, "The Tank, the Swan and the Balloon Live!," in November. The centerpiece of that two-disc set is the 1992 performance of the act's Phantasmagorical Entertainment tour at the Manchester Apollo in England.

"Erasure's 20th anniversary is a cause for celebration," Mute director of marketing Jeanne Klafin says. "This extraordinary accomplishment signifies the longevity and relevance of Erasure's music and career -- and further solidifies Erasure as a trailblazer in popular music."

Indeed, Clarke's tech-savvy approach to music-making has influenced a wide range of acts, from the Postal Service, Scissor Sisters and Fischerspooner to Lil Jon, Usher and Missy Elliott.

Following misguided studio albums "Loveboat" (released internationally in 2000) and "Cowboy" (1997) -- and last year's covers album, "Other People's Songs" -- "Nightbird" is a return to form. It's akin to hearing from a long-lost friend-one who may have rested on his laurels at one time, but who is now out to prove something.

"Because Andy now lives in Spain and the U.K. and I now live here in the U.S., we don't see each other unless we're working," Clarke says. "When we do get together to work, it's really exciting. It's like we're starting all over again.

"We both come with lots of ideas and excitement," Clarke continues. "It's like being married for 20 years: You may not have sex as often as you used to, but when you do, you really go for it."

That said, Clarke notes that his mother often tells him that Erasure songs all sound the same. "She says, 'Whenever I hear one of your songs on the radio, I always know it's you -- even if I don't know the song.'"

Because Clarke knows every part of every Erasure song, he sees things differently. "I'll think, 'You hear that sound right there, well, I've never done that before.' So, for me, it's weird when people say our songs sound the same. Of course, Andy's voice remains Andy's voice."

Bell's choirboy-like voice shines on "Nightbird." And so do the arrangements. Despite its flaws, Clarke and Bell say their covers album was necessary to make. "It rejuvenated us," Bell notes.

"When we looked at other people's writings, we came upon arrangements that perhaps weren't traditional Erasure arrangements," Clarke adds. "This profoundly affected us: It made us look at our own arrangements when it came time to write for this album."

Bell also got a fresh perspective from his side solo project with Manhattan Clique, a British production duo. A release is expected later this year.

"Nightbird," is preceded by the Jan. 18 release of lead single "Breathe." In addition to remixes by Pete Heller (exclusive to the U.S. single), LMC and Manhattan Clique, the CD single includes the "Breathe" video and non-album tracks "Gone Crazy" and "Mr. Gribber and His Amazing Cat."

In February, Erasure commences its new tour, the Erasure Show, in Europe. A North American trek will begin in mid-April and hit 10-12 cities.





Excerpted from the Jan. 8, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.

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