Snow Globe is the band's first foray into recording Christmas themed songs since 1988's Crackers International EP. Released in the winter of 2013, this is not your traditional festive album in that it is home to original compositions as well as yuletide-based cover versions, and all with barely a jingling sleigh bell to be heard (thankfully!). The album gets off to a cracker (no pun intended) in the form of the excellent Bells Of Love (Isabelle's Of Love), which despite what the sleeve notes would tell you was written entirely by Vince for his niece Isabelle. Beautifully crafted, this is an uplifting and contagious song which is home to a strong chorus and fine backing vocals. My only criticism of the song is the dubious use of the apostrophe in the song's title! Lead single Gaudete follows and on first listen is a curious song - a medieval Latin hymn is certainly an unusual choice for a Christmas album. But the band deliver a classy, and incredibly infectious, recording that really showcases their creativity and in particular Andy's voice. His vocals are terrific, especially in the falsetto parts of the song, and really demonstrate how his voice is improving with age. Another of the self-penned tracks follows in the form of Make It Wonderful which is the second single from the album. Not inspired by the holidays at all, this is a fine mid-tempo number that is just lacking a little in the chorus. The production is slick, contemporary and isn't a million miles away from some of the songs from Tomorrow's World (but without the brash vocals effects found that album).
Though often melancholy in tune, Snow Globe also has a shimmery, icy beauty.USA Today
Sleep Quietly is the first of the very festive-sounding covers, which sees Andy's Kate Bush style vocals delivered over a slightly menacing synth backdrop. Whilst Vince's arrangement is interestingly layered and Andy's vocals are accomplished this isn't a particularly engrossing song to start with and isn't one that is likely to become an addictive listen. The untouchable Silent Night gets the album back on track in superb style. If you think you've heard this hymn to death over the years, this version will still blow you away - the understated music aids to highlight Andy's sultry, divine harmonies which are genuinely amongst the finest vocals the band have ever recorded. A shiver-inducing classic. Original track Loving Man changes the pace and is a bouncy gem of a song. Partially, the lyrics are about Andy's late former lover Paul Hickey ("I know that I can't keep numbing out the pain") but despite this is uplifting and very enjoyable. Next up is The Christmas Song and the first thing that strikes you is the very 80's computer game synth line that runs through the track. It is great to hear something different musically for a song such as this, even if it is somewhat incongruous, but once more the original song is quite disposable. The arrangement for Bleak Midwinter certainly feels more in keeping with the Christmas spirit and is home to tribal percussion and soft use of synth sounds. Once more Andy unleashes his inner choirboy and delivers some fine vocals, especially in the track's harmonies and backing vocals. A fine interpretation of a mediocre hymn.
Following the darker theme of the previous song is Blood On The Snow which is another song with a very video game sound to it. Written entirely by Andy (but again credited as a Clarke/Bell composition), this is a lyrically strong track that alludes to the festive season without ever really mentioning it. The vocals and music fuse nicely, but the song sadly lacks a killer chorus. Still, a good track notwithstanding. Another new song follows in the form of There'll Be No Tomorrow, which is a song about having the time of life by treating a night out as if it is your last. This is by far the weakest of the original songs - and has a very Nightbird/Light At The End Of The World b-side feel to it. By no means terrible, it's no classic either. All that remains now are cover versions and Midnight Clear is up next, which is a soothing lullaby. Once more the production is effortless; musically serene and pleasant with good vocals, but there's little escaping the fact source material is flat and not particularly interesting. It's nice, but also pretty forgettable. The conclusion of this song sounds almost identical to the intro of the song that follows as the pace of the album slows considerably. White Christmas is an intriguing recording - the crackling gramophone vocals and subway station sound effects juxtaposes the modern music box style synths and foreboding bass of the song in an interesting manner (even if the middle eight feels jarring and out of place). Whilst this is a creative approach to reinterpreting this much-covered song, it doesn't quite hit the sweet spot. The album concludes with Silver Bells. The arrangement develops and builds nicely as the song progresses and Andy once more sounds excellent. Problem is, this is another example of good music and vocals being held back by a weak song, and sees the album end on a lull.
Fans' Best/Worst Of
- Loving Man
- Bells Of Love (Isabelle's Of Love)
- Make It Wonderful
- White Christmas
- The Christmas Song
The deluxe box set version of the album is home to another couple of CDs, as well as a host of festive goodies. The Acappella Version of Gaudete really helps to highlight the quality of Andy's vocals, although the song works better with music. There are nice acoustic versions of Make It Wonderful, which sounds more sombre and soulful than the album mix, and Stop The Cavalry, which is a good song that deserved a proper synth arrangement and a place on the main album in my view. There are pointless instrumental versions of Silent Night and White Christmas and a spoken word piece called Yes Virginia, There Is A Santa Claus that is unlikely warrant more than one listen. The most interesting tracks are the 2013 Redux versions of tracks from the Crackers International EP. Whilst nowhere near as warm and enjoyable as the flawless original, the new version of She Won't Be Home is still a very good reworking which once more sounds like it could be from a Nintendo game. The new version of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen is far superior to the drab original, thanks in no small part to Vince's dark, pulsating new arrangement. Andy's falsetto vocals are likely to still divide opinion, though. The Erasure Christmas Radio Show makes up CD3 and is a charming, funny insight into the Snow Globe project. For the box set version, add half a star to the album rating.
Snow Globe is a good but inconsistent project that sometimes suffers from an identity crisis. The album pacing falls away as you reach the final tracks and the mix of original tracks and album tracks does affect the album's overall cohesion. Despite this, the original songs help to stop the album feeling too samey - even if some tracks feel out of place on a Christmas-themed release. It is nice to hear Vince dabble with 8-bit arrangements for the first time and as you'd expect it is done with the utmost skill and competency and Andy's layered, lush vocals rarely dip below the exceptional. If anything, such qualities are often wasted and if you could take the quality of the music and vocals and apply them to better songs, Snow Globe would easily be a classic (which bodes very well for the next Erasure release). As it is, Snow Globe is a good festive album that is still well worth checking out.
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