Erasure, the English synth-pop duo of Vince Clarke (ex-Depeche Mode and Yaz) and newcomer Andy Bell, debuted in 1986 with "Wonderland," an enjoyable, though spotty, collection of simple, danceable pop songs. With "Wonderland," despite many brilliant highlights, Erasure was still finding its voice and the Clarke-Bell songwriting team was still in its earliest stages (Bell's only contribution to "Oh L'amour" was the title and a couple of the album's other songs were written entirely by Clarke). But by "The Circus," the partnership had solidified and Erasure's forte was clear: writing melodic, hook-laden pop songs devoid of the angst or gloom so characteristic of other '80s synth-pop bands. On "The Circus," everything clicked, and the songwriting was among their most consistent. "Hideaway," "Don't Dance," "Victim of Love," "The Circus," "It Doesn't Have to Be" and (of course) "Sometimes"--where is there another album released in the '80s so full of intelligent, finely crafted, brilliantly arranged pop songs? I can't think of one. Alas, the boys would follow up with 1988's dreadfully inconsistent "The Innocents" and 1989's OK "Wild!" before going on to make their finest records in the '90s. But if you want an early Erasure album that sounds like a greatest hits collection, buy "The Circus."