Despite Andy Bell's health problems in recent years -- he's been HIV-positive since 1998, and has suffered through a degenerative bone condition that's required two hip-replacement surgeries -- the Erasure singer's distinctive voice is as vigorous, dramatic, and passionate as ever on the long-running Europop outfit's 11th studio platter. But compared to the carefree hedonism and flamboyant euphoria of albums past, Nightbird at times bears a sober mood, especially in the initial stretch. Opener "No Doubt" is a midtempo plea for affection from an unresponsive lover, while composer Vince Clarke's rainy synth pulses underpin Bell's yearning croon in the breakup ballad "Breathe." Still, the party's hardly over -- it just takes a little while to really get going. "All This Time Still Falling Out of Love" can definitely fire up a dance floor despite the bummer title and ruminating lyrics, and "Sweet Surrender" bounces effervescently with the galloping beats and proudly bleating robo-melodies that've been Erasure's calling card for two decades. There's sadness scattered throughout, but Nightbird is neither a capitulation nor a premature eulogy -- there's lots of life left in this duo yet.
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