Artist Spotlight: Soft Cell

Were still in Pride month but reaching the end but the media coverage at least was a good thing again. I thought why not write up another important LGBTQ+ band.

Soft Cell was the brainchild of Marc Almond and Dave Ball. One an openly gay student at Leeds Polytechnic and the other also a student at the school but a cis shut-in who really liked synths. They started Soft Cell in their cramped horrible apartments in Leeds around the same time other pioneers of experimental synth-pop like caberet voltaire got their start.

Their debut record is pretty typical of the time, offbeat angsty near industrial pop with Almond´s wailing vocals calling forwards P-orridge vocals for Throbbing Gristle at the time and Ball´s makeshift set of cheap synths making a robotic angst filled atmosphere. The 12inch was a cult success and was recorded on a 2-track recorder. Allot of those recordings that didn´t make it are on the brilliant The Bedsit Tapes collector they released in the early 90´s. It shows two people angry at their life(´shit biscuits in a work cantine´ Excretory Eat Anorexia Nervosa goes) and finding a outlet in music.The ep, a private release of around 2000 copies, was a pretty huge succes.

Lyrical the record tackeled fetishism and frustration with Britain in the early 80´s. Two common things in Soft Cell´s work.

After the success of their debut the band toured a bit, dropped one of the best 80´s track of the 80s´ with their none album Memorabillia single and got a deal with Some Bizzare at the times still a leading synth-pop label.

Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret is often a bit forgotten in 80´s full length albums discussions and it´s a huge omission. With the power of a real studio at their hands the band launched in what can best describe ´rough kitschy synth punk´, even more from the recorded Frustration opening the record with searing synths and thumping synths. But it´s mostly the second song that really shines.

Everyone knows Tainted Love, it´s a radio and club classic. The loud bleepy organ synth, hand claps, Almond´s pretty raw sexual lyrics(the original is a classic Nothern Soul song) and it´s catchy chorus set it for becoming a chart topper. It kinda feels out of place on the record, it´s a great song but by far the poppiest thing on the pretty offputting record the band threw together.

Even more when the follow up is the sultry punk-funk of Seedy Funk which has Almond picking up man at adult theaters and voyeur in a city at night. It´s a very sexual for a time allot of songs still kinda avoided these subjects. And then you got Sex Dwarf. Sex Dwarf is pretty much Nine Inch Nails before Nine Inch Nails existed, something Reznor woudn´t deny because the band covered it a ton. It´s a tumping proto-industrial song about a S&M relationship with an angry Almond demeaning his slave partner. Itś tremedous. It video got of course banned. The whole record has video album which is really worth seeking out.

The ending track say hello, wave goodbye captures the bands other side perfectly. With it´s melodramatic keyboard and Almond wailing about a relationship that didn´t work through his sexuality which he tried to deny with it and his partner´s old partying ways it´s a throwback to the drama led crooner pop of the 60´s(Almond would later with Gene Pitey score a mega hit). ´I tried to make it work, you in a cocktail shirt, me in a suit, it didn´t work´. It´s hard hitting and a departure from the rest of this very danceable record. It´s the old British kitchen-sink drama set to music.

None-stop erotic cabaret is a awesome record. It´s still pretty damm sexual and sleazy after 35 years and packs so many great tunes it´s hard to deny it´s deeply underated. The band followed it up next year with Non-stop ecstatic dancing which is mostly a bunch of recorded songs and their amazingly fun cover of Where Did Our Love Go.

Were Erotic Cabaret is tons of fun, it´s follow up The Art of Falling Apart isn´t. Through huge drug use by both members the band was fighting itself most of the time and it shows. The art of falling is allot angrier then the sleaze it follows up. It´s allot more musically monotone than the previous record with Ball really riding home on buzzsaw synths and Almond´s drug use affecting his lyrics, the album is full of references of drug use and depression. It´s still a really compelling listen but a hard one at times. The orginal release came with a 12inch called Hendrix Medley, which does what it says on the label the band covering with synths loads of classic Jimmy Hendrix tunes. It´s well wroth a listen.

Before quitting the band released one more record. This last night in Sodom which is good but has a full band backing them which makes them loose quite a bit of their charm from Ball´s synths. Marc Almond became a well-known cult artist and Ball formed the grid were he went a way more techno way. The band re-united in 2001 and cut a pretty mediocre reunion record and that´s it pretty much