Thursday, February 3, 2011

Non-Stop Soft Cell

I have been a big fan of the English synthpop duo Soft Cell (Marc Almond on vocals, David Ball on instruments) since my Junior year of high school (almost 30 years ago). It was likely their number 1 hit "Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go" that first hooked me (this song is still one of my favorite 80's tunes today, especially as an extended mix version) and hearing other tracks by them on the nearby SUNY Fredonia college radio station that lead me to seek out their music on vinyl. It also helped that my best friend at the time (John P.) was also into the band - he too picked up a few disks of theirs and we often listened to them when hanging out at his house.

Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret was their first album released in late 1981 and ended up on the "1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die" list as well as College Music Journal's "Top 25 College Radio Albums of All Time" list. While I had some of these tracks on greatest hits collections, I didn't complete my MP3 collection of them until a few years ago. It was kind of cool being able to "discover" some of the songs I was missing after all these years - like a familiar voice from the past on the other end of the phone saying "hello" (but not waving goodbye - these songs are here to stay in my collection).

Side one kicks off with "Frustration" with its ping-ponging beat. Next comes "Tainted Love", a cover of a song originally performed by Gloria Jones in 1964 and one of the band's signature tunes (their one Top 40 charting tune). "Seedy Films" definitely is a response to their lives in New York City at the time, a reflection of the darker side of the Apple. "Youth" follows with its haunting vocals and wistfull melody. And the side ends with "Sex Dwarf", an ode to sexual fetishes of a most different kind. Clearly Marc and David felt comfortable singing about topics that any mainstream artists would tend to shy away from. This is part of what put them on the cutting edge of early new-wave acts, even if it meant the songs were relegated to underground clubs and college radio airplay.

"Entertain Me" starts off side two with its frantic pacing. It is like the circus has come to town, complete with shouting crowds. It seques pretty seamlessly in the next track "Chips on My Shoulder". The center piece of the side is "Bedsitter", a sort-of morning after review of the night before. I like how the music and lyrics mesh on this one. "Secret Life" also has an interesting intro/beat-line. It has a classic 60's feel to it in some aspects. And finally, the album ends with "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye", a melancholy song about the awkwardness between a couple after they've broken up. This is one of my favorite songs on the album. The sentiment of the title really works for me along with the whole musical arrangement.

In early 1982, Soft Cell followed up their debut with an EP (extended play) called Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing. It was meant to compliment their debut album while emphasizing the more "dance" aspect of their music. I had this album on vinyl, bought at the local Record Giant store in the D&F Plaza.

Side one kicks off with "Memorabilia", my favorite track on this album. I guess it speaks to that collector mentality that I have. I like the catchy rhythm of this one with how it builds from the intro, along with the "Me-me-me-me-Memorabilia" aspect to the chorus. It gets stuck in your head very easily. Next up is a cover of the 1964 Supremes song "Where Did Our Love Go?". I like the subtle change-ups to the music on this, giving it a synth make-over. Completing this side is "What?", a song previously done by Judy Street. Clearly the guys have a love for classics and they do this one proud. This plea to a former lover is a great song.

Side two begins with the instrumental "A Man Could Get Lost" with its quirky intro. This one is all David Bell, a great spotlight for his musical skills. I could easily hear this being played in clubs back in 1981. It is then followed up, on the US version of the album, with "Insecure...Me?" (the UK version repeats "Chips on My Shoulder" from Cabaret. It almost feels like an extension of the previous track, but then we get Marc jumping in with his powerful vocals. I could see these two getting back-to-back club play. Finally, "Sex Dwarf" makes a reappearance here from Cabaret to round out the album.

In listening to these two albums again to write this review, I had to stop and think of why they appealed so much to me back then. I have to perhaps attribute it to being a teenager, full of raging hormones and emotion, on the verge of discovering who I was as a person. These songs perhaps spoke to a different side of me, a side that was not the straight A honors student who spent his evenings and weekends studying. There was the social side of me that wanted to break out, to go out dancing and have fun, and to fall in love. And perhaps some of these songs were calling to that side.

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