Trips down Memory Lane are not always pleasant experiences. But, as reminders of what went before, the record industry’s equivalent – the “best of” album – serves to remind of past triumphs, disasters and mediocrity.
But from Soft Cell on this “very best of” we get exactly what it says on the tin – some particularly choice moments from the long and winding career of the electrorock glamsters Marc Almond and Dave Ball. Mediocrity and Almond’s duet with Gene Pitney are thankfully nowhere to be found.
Everything you’d expect is here, from debut 1981 single Memorabilia to the seminal Tainted Love. Throughout the record, Almond’s voice of course is unmistakable. From operatic vibrato to tuneless howl he has all bases covered. Dave Ball’s synths and guitars are inventive and full of humour and edginess, while the music overall still sounds sleazy and on the edge, despite the band’s huge album sales figures and the fact that they’ve been around for decades.
Unlike their peers Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet, whose music was often the very epitome of overblown ’80s excess, Soft Cell’s production retains an indie/alternative feel, matched in their heydey only by Gary Numan. The album notes would have us believe that it was “Kraftwerk meets Edith Piaf, Suicide meets Judy Garland” and it isn’t difficult to see what they mean, even if Piaf and Garland were both rather more pleasing on the eye than the elongated bag of make-up that is Almond.
On later offering Somebody, Somewhere, Sometime Soft Cell began to rediscover the pleasures of working together again. A Pet Shop Boys circa West End Girls feel is in evidence here. The camp delight that is the Almighty Radio Edit of Say Hello, Wave Goodbye takes them as close to the Eurotrance of the likes of Lasgo and Marc et Claude as we’ve ever heard – despite still not sounding commercial.
Although Soft Cell have now reformed and have a new record deal, this album is not meant as a career relaunch. Its appeal to hardcore fans – who will already own all the records – must be limited, but this record should serve its real purpose and initiate a new generation into the gender-bending electrorock glam wave that Soft Cell did so much to define. At this year’s Homelands they will simply steal the show. Their next work should be very enlivening – as always.