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The synth pop duo of Marc Almond and Dave Ball seemed more influenced than The Sparks than the shiny plastic soul of their contemporaries Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. If bands like The Specials and The Clash were talking politics and racial tensions then Soft Cell were escaping the streets and the brutality of everyday for altogether more exciting venues like strip clubs and sex cinemas.
Almond was probably seen as the ultimate home invader. Staring down from posters on teenage boys bedroom walls dressed in mascara and leather, Almond challenged the ultra conservative era pf "family values" by reminding everybody of their own hypocrisy and always championing the underdog.
Indeed "Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret" is at times like reading the most intimate of all personal diaries..it begs for escape and for release and more importantly of all, it begs for new experiences. It's in your face from the first minute and it doesn't care who is shocked or outraged. In fact, it frowns heavily on the very concept of shock or outrage.
It could be argued that the album celebrates decadence in a way that champions the type of oneupmanship we see on the gay scene - of drugs, dancing and mindless lonely sexual encounters. That may be so but Almond is so sick of suburbia and normality that he is begging for fun and new beginnings. But Almond soon finds out that it's not what it's cracked up to be.
Take "Bedsitter" for instance - one of synth pop's finest moments - it's the hangover after the party, the crabs after the crap one nighter, the black eye you don't remember getting..it cries with despair, pain and loneliness. The realisation has hit home that here is one big false dream. A lack of friends ("No one knows i'm here for sure"), comfort eating ("think it's time to cook a meal..fill the emptiness I feel") and the painful confession that Saturday night is one over rated sea of nothingness ("start the night life over again and kid myself i'm having fun"). Rarely has a song so catchy and poppy been hiding such a lonely existence.
"isn't it nice sugar and spice..luring disco dollies to a life of vice" sings Almond in the heavy metal with synths classic "Sex Dwarf". It's the type of anthem that anybody bored of viewing dull lifeless commuters could chant happily.
Naturally the press had a field day with Almond but in "secret life", he sings about a celebrity under the threat of blackmail and exposure. It explains the lengths some people will go too in order to keep their lives private from the gossipy eyes of neighbours.."change my sex..change my hair..be hard to find anywhere."
"Say Hello Wave Goodbye" is glorious. Who said electronic music lacks passion and soul? It's big, dramatic, bold and lush. The tale of doomed love ("you and I..We had to be the standing joke of the year.") is not without its moments of dry humour from Almond...("me in a suit..well it just wasn't me.")
"Frustration" screams in boredom of the people that surround Almond..probably his neighbours and family. It is mocking the mundane and the ordinary grey cloud in everyday life.
"I have home
A mortgage of my own
I have hobby
But it's nothing very special
I do the garden
I watch girls
I am so ordinary"
In contrast, "Seedy Films" is an absolutely gorgeous late night drive through "sleazy city", helped along by some wonderfully camp giggly and breathless female vocals. Almond is in his prime singing lines such as "phone me tonight..maybe we can talk dirty." If you look closer at the sleeve to this record, it is pure Soho. Almond is seen surrounded by neon lights sneaking a brown paper bag inside his scruffy leather jacket. That scene alone probably says more about the British stiff upper lip attitude to sexuality than a thousand words ever could. It's as if once you put this album on the turntable that the brown package is revealed in all its stark details.
Dave Ball is not an insignificant player in all of this either. Far from it. "youth" is one of the most torch lit sublime pieces of synth pop I have ever heard. And whilst some of the music may now sound dated like the trashy disco sound of "Chips on my shoulder" (a bitchy anthem about hypocrisy - "i'll talk about famine whilst cooking the dinner"), the melodies are so strong that they will live on forever - such as the classic "Tainted Love" until now because people always (wrongly) assume that Soft Cell were all about this one song. It is a brilliantly executed cover version and no party would be complete without a blast of this track but it was a chain around the neck of Soft Cell at the time and it isn't really an accurate pointer to the rest of the music.
It's hard to listen to this album now without feeling some sadness for the state of pop music now. Marc Almond was a proper pop star - he had the tears, the drama, the mascara, the attitude, the drugs, the ego and the heartbreak..
Back then and Soft Cell sound like a mini revolution, destined to talk about the things your neighbours would rather not acknowledge. Musically, they sound innovative, daring, exciting and most of all they make electronic music sound a bit threatening and edgy at a time when nobody else dared do this. For all the battles within the music industry he stood against - and won - and the battles he encountered in his life offstage - and won - Almond deserves his place right up there as a pop giant. A timeless celebration of daring to be different in a era of clones and where gay sexuality was largely frowned upon in the industry.
And "non Stop Erotic Cabaret" is a pop album that breaks free in every sense of the word.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
2 Tainted Love
3 Seedy Films
5 Sex Dwarf
6 Entertain Me
7 Chips On My Shoulder
9 Secret Life
10 Say Hello, Wave Goodbye
11 Where Did Our Love Go?
13 Facility Girls
14 Fun City
16 Insecure Me