Soft Cell

TrackAlbum / Single
Tainted Love 12"Some Bizzare BZS 212
BedsitterNon-Stop Erotic Cabaret
Say Hello, Wave GoodbyeNon-Stop Erotic Cabaret
TorchSome Bizzare BZS 9
Loving You, Hating Me The Art Of Falling Apart
Baby DollThe Art Of Falling Apart
It's A Mugs Game 12"Some Bizzare BZS 1612
MemorabiliaSome Bizzare HARD 1
Soul Inside 12"Some Bizzare BZS 2012
You Only Live TwiceSome Bizzare BZS 2012

Soft Cell photo 1

Marc Almond & Dave Ball

 

 

spotify-logo-primary-horizontal-dark-background-rgb-sm
Soft Cell playlist

 

Contributor: Austin Fisher

This top 10 seems like a run-through of Soft Cell singles but a) it isn’t and b) they had an extraordinary run of very strong single releases, so it wouldn’t be right to choose other songs out of sheer recalcitrance, when there they are – ready to drink out of a bottle. I haven’t touched on the Cruelty Without Beauty LP from 2002 because I didn’t commit to the songs in the same way as I did when Soft Cell dominated the early 80s.

My relationship with Soft Cell started when I heard the extended version of Tainted Love. This version moves into Where Did Our Love Go and I consider this to be about as thrilling as pop music gets. The aggressive brace of keyboard ‘stabs’ in Tainted Love become softer as we move through from anger to sad acceptance and then, like a flatlining oscilloscope, the beat falters and then stops. The (tainted) love has gone. Lyrically, Tainted Love set the tone for Soft Cell as they don’t really do straightforward love songs.

Soft Cell had one hit wonder written all over them. Tainted Love was huge; one of the biggest singles of the decade. Although Marc Almond frequently said how much he hated it, Tainted Love is Soft Cell’s elephant in the room (but wearing a studded leather cap and in torn fishnet stockings).

They cultivated a sleazy, soho backstreet image with their LP Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret. This was a definite push away from the mainstream because Marc was an engaging daytime TV talker, a dream interviewee and by now one of the UK’s most recognisable people. This debut album all but guaranteed no promotion on children’s TV, for example.

In subsequent interviews it has become clear that Marc Almond instinctively did this because he had no interest in showbiz or celebrity. He seemed to get off this ‘circuit’ as soon as he was able to – and yet, he still wanted to perform and sing his heart out. I have had the privilege of seeing him singing live and this is something everyone should witness at least once.

Most people are not at all interested in a one hit wonder’s follow-up singles. But Soft Cell carried on doing rather well. Bedsitter, Say Hello Wave Goodbye and Torch are self-written and each of them wonderful pop songs.

In Bedsitter, a young man is alone and hungover on a Sunday morning. He has no money and nothing to eat and he talks us through his lonely day. Like a prisoner, he reflects on his grim situation and yearns for a visitor. In an ending that calls to mind Tie A Yellow Ribbon, he looks out of his window and sees a thousand people, just like him. But this isn’t a joyful, satisfying end to the story. With Dave Ball’s sparse soundtrack, the repeated line “I’m waiting, for something, I’m only passing time” articulates the period we all go through where you are not at all certain about where you’re going or what you’re doing.

Then we escape into fantasy with Say Hello, Wave Goodbye – a story about a doomed affair between a ruthless but spineless man and a prostitute. He makes it very clear he wants nothing to do with her and if they should meet socially, they are to pretend they are strangers meeting for the first time, OK? It feels like a number in a stage musical; a distant cousin of Don’t You Want Me, perhaps. Dave Ball conjures up the dimly-lit sleaze with assertive melodic synth lines that stick in the memory. This is another crossover hit single; most people who were around at the time know it.

The next single, Torch, is a masterpiece. The thing about Soft Cell is that they do not give us perfect songs. There are intentional duff notes, frayed rhythms and vocals that only just make it – particularly on Torch where Cindy Ecstasy plays the singer. Now, she’s a terrible singer but Marc adores her as if she is Piaf. A rather sad but beautiful trumpet line floats in out of the song. Again, a big seller – Torch was a whisker away from the number one spot but felt like an end point.

 

The second LP was The Art Of Falling Apart, which hints at troubled times. I view it as a very confident record and the strongest of the three 80s LPs. Loving You, Hating Me is a song of such quality that it should be as well known as Say Hello, Wave Goodbye. It’s got those serrated edges, the sumptuous melody and the now-familiar dramatic vocals. I see it as the standout track on the album and should have been a single release rather than, say, Numbers.

Baby Doll covers the same territory as many of the songs on Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, but does it far better in my view. The tabloid sauciness and the giggly “ooh matron” elements of Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret are gone and the nasty, grimy reality of the stripper’s life is here.

 

By now, Soft Cell’s time in the pop chart sunshine was gone. This is when things get interesting and now we see some of their best material. It’s A Mugs Game is an unhinged teenager ranting way incoherently and on a hormone-fuelled rampage. He’s having hurried, grubby sex, he’s getting STDs, he’s constantly skint, he’s being chucked out of pubs and of course he hates his parents.

He even hates his record collection (Deep Purple In Rock, Led Zeppelin II) but he plays them loud just to annoy his dad. On second thoughts, he reasons, he could just leave home and go and live in, er, America! Dave Ball gives us a delightfully squelchy rhythm to underpin the chaos and a smooth jazz trumpet line flows in and out. And then it stops abruptly. What was all that about? Well, to this 17-year-old listener, it made a lot more sense than Union Of The Snake.

At around this time, Marc was releasing dramatic solo records under the Marc and the Mambas name and these songs in particular showcased his lyrical style. When Dave Ball adds a groove, you get a Soft Cell song.

So let’s go back a couple of years to Memorabilia – their first release. As a stand-alone instrumental, it would be easy to imagine it being a floor-filler in clubland (wherever that is). But here we have Marc Almond listing the tat he likes to collect on holiday and hints darkly that he views sexual partners in a similar way. And singing “Torremolinos” several times is, possibly, a Monty Python reference (I’m inventing reasons to like the song even more here). As with Tainted Love, the extended version merges to a classic dancefloor tune, Turn The Beat Around – another inspired move.

Galloping into the home straight now, we move to This Last Night In Sodom – an under-appreciated album at the time. This isn’t too surprising because songs like Slave To This and The Best Way To Kill are a difficult listen but Mr Self Destruct and L’Esqualita are great songs, although both could have easily been Marc and the Mambas tracks.

Soul Inside was released as a single but the genius of the song is best observed in its native habitat, the extended 12″ version, which clicks in at over 11 minutes. We certainly “get to hear percussion” because there’s a very long trance-inducing kettle drum sequence. Yes, a kettle drum sequence. Marc Almond ramps up the Marc Almond-ness to almost comical levels. He’s (not-quite) harmonising with himself, the melody is hiding behind the sofa and there is no pleasing metronomic electronic discipline from Dave Ball. It’s messy and noisy with unpleasant saxophone honks to boot. It was a career-ending move if I ever heard one, which is lucky because it was their goodbye single.

Amazingly, Soul Inside was a hit. The TOTP audience did their best to kid themselves they were having fun by dancing to it. You can’t really dance to it – you feel like more like kicking a garage door to it. Soul Inside isn’t a song to play to the unconverted, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t completely brilliant.

We round off the list with a song that you actually could play to your grandmother without her jostling you angrily out of the door. It’s a straightforward cover version, the Bond theme, You Only Live Twice. The song suits Almond’s voice and no doubt scratches a lifelong itch for him to take the stage at the London Palladium. He achieved this later on with Gene Pitney, but this is another majestic cover version to finish off.

 

 

Soft Cell poster

 

Soft Cell official website

Soft Cell discography

Marc Almond official website

Marc and the Mambas (Wikipedia)

Soft Cell biography (AllMusic)

Austin Fisher grew up in the Woking area and moved to New Zealand when he was 33. He is now much, much older than that. He wears two anoraks; an insurance one and a pop music one. He can suck the life out of any room if you let him ramble on about either subject. If you’ve literally got nothing better to do and/or you like Depeche Mode, you can follow him on Twitter @austinfishernz

TopperPost #982

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

↓