A decade ago, Erasure was at the top of its game, having scored hit dance singles over the previous five years with "Chains of Love," "A Little Respect," "Chorus," and "Take a Chance on Me," the latter from an EP of ABBA covers.
While the band's recent albums haven't fared as well, the techno-pop duo continues to record, and its past hits still get plenty of airplay. Erasure's label, Sire/Mute, is hoping past fans will rediscover the band with its just-in-time-for-holiday shopping release, Hits! The Very Best of Erasure. The two-disc set offers both a 20-track collection of Erasure singles, as well as a second disc that takes most of those tracks and creates a seamless danceclub-like "megamix."
Another holiday-aimed offering comes from Sheryl Crow. The Very Best of Sheryl Crow, on A&M, features 17 tracks from the course of Crow's decade-long flirtation with the pop charts.
From her gems of heartache, "Leaving Las Vegas" "My Favorite Mistake" and "If It Makes You Happy," to her pure pop celebrations, "Soak Up the Sun," "All I Wanna Do" and "A Change Would Do You Good," and her country collaboration with Kid Rock, "Picture," Crow has proven herself a canny songwriter and reinventer, and all her best work is here.
Ryuichi Sakamoto has never scored a hit on these shores, despite having won an Oscar and a Grammy. The Japanese composer has, however, garnered a devoted following for his adventurous mixture of eclectic pop, Eastern melodicism and classical composition.
Since leaving his techno collective Yellow Magic Orchestra in the early '80s, Sakamoto has released an unpredictable stream of soundtrack and adventurous pop albums. In 1983, he scored (and appeared in) the film Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence (starring David Bowie), and the theme from that film, “Forbidden Colors” with vocals by David Sylvian, remains one of the simplest, yet most evocative soundtrack themes ever. He has also scored the films The Last Emperor and The Sheltering Sky. Samples from these soundtracks, as well as songs from his pop-oriented albums Neo Geo (1987) and his original classical piano record BTTB (1999) have now been collected on moto.tronic from Sony Classical.
This collection focuses on his more atmospheric and classically oriented work, not acknowledging Sakamoto's "pop" albums released on Elektra and Virgin in the '90s. The set also includes a DVD bonus disc capturing performances from this year and the late '80s, ranging from a solo-focused piano performance of the theme from Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence to a full stage of performers for "Neo Geo."
Per Second, Per Second, Per Second … Every Second
Formed six years ago in Massachusetts, Wheat released two albums on a tiny Chicago record label before finally reaching "the big time" with its latest release, Per Second, Per Second, Per Second … Every Second. Working in the same mid-tempo rock arena as bands like Guster, with a hint of the skewed pop sense of Flaming Lips and soul of Wilco, Wheat offers a dozen guitar-driven entries on its third album. It's an enjoyable, if not groundbreaking, listen.
Singer-guitarist Scott Levesque always delivers his lyrics with just a hint of wry edge, and the band manages to drop "serious" alternative tracks side by side with disco-derived rock without irony. The wah-wah guitar and "ooh-ooh-ooh-hoo" punctuated "Some Days" is pure alchemic disco-rock genius, while "Go Get the Cops" and "World United Already" secrete a Weezer taste of skinny tie sensibility with its understated retro keyboards.
Per Second … is a solidly produced dose of unthreatening modern rock that won't bowl you over, but it probably will get your feet tapping.
Wheat will open for Liz Phair in Urbana on Nov. 17 and in Milwaukee on Nov. 18.