After twenty years as the vocalist of the British pop act Erasure, Andy Bell is making his solo debut. His recently released album, Electric Blue, transforms the melodic synth pop Bell forged with Erasure in the Eighties into a more high-energy, club-ready sound.
"That's the kind of music that I love, really," says the singer. "I love going out and having a good bop and stuff. It's just really a fun thing to do."
Bell first began a solo project a few years ago with producer Gareth Jones (Depeche Mode, Nick Cave) that later became the 2003 Erasure covers album Other People's Songs. Then the British production/DJ team Manhattan Clique (Phillip Larsen and Chris Smith), who were the support act on Erasure's 2003 tour behind that album, gave Bell a CD and asked if he was interested in collaborating with them. "We got together in February 2004 with the intention of doing a dance EP," he recalls. "The songs were coming out so fast, and the writing was so easy. Before we knew it, we had twenty songs."
With Bell's charismatic vocals and dramatic, lovelorn lyrics, Electric Blue is an aggressive techno-oriented effort perfectly embodied in the first single, "Crazy." "It is the feeling of when you meet somebody, and you're just so infatuated with him that you can't help your feelings at all," says the openly gay Bell. "It kind of reminded me a little bit of some Kylie [Minogue] song."
Adding to the album's stylistic range are the retro-sounding tune "Shaking My Soul" and the pop ballads "Fantasy" and "The Rest of Our Lives." "I was getting really tired of those boy-band ballads around on the charts," he says, "and I thought, 'Well, I can do those.' They're quite soppy, really, those two."
Electric Blue also features a duet with Scissor Sisters singer Jake Shears, which came in the wake of the New York glam popsters inviting Bell to their London show. "They dedicated a song to me," Bell remembers, "which has never happened to me before. It was really sweet." The episode inspired Bell to send Shears the song "I Thought It Was You," in hopes of a collaboration. "He said yes. It's the gayest thing he's ever heard!"
The release of Bell's solo album is not a signal that he and Erasure keyboardist Vince Clarke are breaking up: The synth-pop duo is set to release an acoustic album featuring strings, guitars and percussion next year. "Some people used to say that when you work with synthesizers you just press a button and the songs come out," says Bell. The unplugged effort "is to show them that the songs can be done in any style whatsoever -- it doesn't matter which instruments you are playing."
Last December, in response to rumors on the Internet, Bell announced that he has been HIV-positive since 1998. "It was really to clear my mind and just go with a clean slate," he explains. "I wanted to put it straight and say, 'Yes, it's true.' It's been really fine. It's almost like coming out in the first place, with people saying, 'Oh, thanks a lot, it really helped me.'"
Bell plans to play a few dates in the U.K. and U.S. through this year and into early 2006. According to the singer, those performances will be dressed-down affairs in contrast to Erasure's fashion extravaganzas. As for the Erasure audience's reception to his solo material, he adds, "I really just want the fans to have fun and enjoy themselves."
So what does Erasure's Clarke thinks of Electric Blue? "He was really pleased," Bell says. "He's always been supportive. It was really nice to have his input and encouragement."
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