Erasure's ninth proper LP, Loveboat was released overseas in 2000 and is now seeing a domestic release due to the recent interest in the group's album of covers, Other People's Songs, issued earlier this year. Save for decent performances of Peter Gabriel's "Solsbury Hill" and the Righteous Brothers' "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling," thatproject fell short of Abba Esque, the duo's brilliant 1992 EP of Abba covers. Sadly, Loveboat also misses a high-water mark, set by albums like Erasure's 1986 debut, Wonderland, and 1988's The Innocents. It would have been better if the band had stuck to its '80s MO with Loveboat -- at least then we could have called it retro. But it didn't, and all that's left is the shell of a once-successful formula.

That this record was made over three years ago is evidenced by the spider webs collecting in Vince Clarke's production. Once innovative but now sadly behind the curve, the beats here sound amateur, the synth lines strangely like the preset loops that come loaded into most keyboards. Meanwhile, Andy Bell's normally ebullient voice is downright atonal on the listless "Crying in the Rain." Perhaps it's because he's still singing those same stupid lyrics: "Everybody hurts when you're playing the game of love." (Dude, Andy, maybe it's just not your game.) The fun that permeated the band's classic tunes like "Oh L'Amour," "A Little Respect," and "Chains of Love" seems very distant here. In its place are dour production and deflated vocals.

Loveboat doesn't just put us veteran Erasure fans off. It makes us want to listen to the act's older albums or catch it in the live arena -- anything to help us remember that band we were once so in love with. Not only will this record not earn Erasure any new fans, it could endanger the loyalty of its tried-and-true admirers.

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