Early gigs around the north and a developing live reputation led to the band pressing a limited 2,000-copy four-track EP, Mutant Moments, at a local studio, which attracted the attention of Some Bizarre Records boss Stevo. He invited the duo to contribute to a compilation project he was putting together.
In early 1981, Stevo packaged Soft Cell into a deal with a major label as the duo’s first single, ‘A Man Can Get Lost’ – featuring the electro classic ‘Memorabilia’ on the flip – was released, albeit to little commercial attention. The follow-up, a cover of Gloria Jones’ Northern soul classic, ‘Tainted Love’, couldn’t have performed more differently. It entered the UK Top 40 at No.26 in August 1981 and hit the top spot just three weeks later, backed by an enthusiastic and then still-influential music press. A wave of promotional appearances later (but famously no promo clip until a later video album was created) saw the single, backed with a cover of The Supremes’ ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’, scale charts across the world. In the US, the track enjoyed a staggering 43-week chart run in the Billboard Hot 100, ultimately peaking at No.8. In the UK, it sold over one million copies, was named the music industry’s Record Of The Year, ended up as 1981’s biggest seller and, ultimately, became one of the decade’s best-loved chart-toppers.
The November follow-up, ‘Bedsitter’, backed this time by a memorable Tim Pope video, did strong business in the UK, hitting No.4, but failed to match its predecessor’s success in the international charts. It came from the band’s debut LP, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, which was released the following month and peaked at UK No.5 in a 46-week chart run. It contained the third smash-hit, ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’, which got to No.3 in the UK charts and was memorably later covered by David Gray on his 1998 album, White Ladder.
Marc’s decision to partly base himself in New York – a city he had fallen in love with on a trip the previous year – to continue work on what was to become the Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing remix album allowed him to indulge in many of the temptations the Big Apple could offer. So while ‘Torch’ secured the group a UK No.2 in the summer of 1982, it was clear the public’s middle-of-the road tastes and Marc’s artistic inclinations were a marriage not meant to last. Another Northern soul cover, Judy Street’s ‘What!’, gave Soft Cell a final Top 3 chart placing, but the lead single from their second LP unexpectedly stalled outside the UK Top 20. ‘Where The Heart Is’ dealt with dark domestic issues and may have been poorly timed given its December release date and lighter, seasonal competition from the likes of Renee And Renato. It was, however, an entirely fitting statement for Marc’s uncompromising worldview and artistic credibility.
The Art Of Falling Apart, released the following month, peaked at UK No.5 and was a more rounded, imaginative triumph, but managed just 10 weeks on the listings. The double A-Side of ‘Numbers’ and ‘Barriers’ failed to change its commercial trajectory when it was released as the set’s final single in March; a third single, ‘Loving You, Hating Me’, did similar modest business internationally.
By this time, Marc was experimenting with a sideline project. Marc And The Mambas’ debut set, Untitled, had been released the previous autumn, hitting UK No.42, and displayed a wider set of influences, including revivals of tracks by Lou Reed and Jacques Brel. Marc’s prolific work rate during this period saw him release a second double-album Mambas set, Torment And Toreros, in August 1983, while work continued on the third Soft Cell LP, This Last Night In Sodom. The lead single from that release, ‘Soul Inside’, peaked at UK No.16 ahead of the duo’s final live dates for decades in early 1984. The LP, co-produced with Flood, who had also worked on the Mambas project, was released in March of that year and reached UK No.12. A final single, ‘Down In The Subway’, peaked at UK No.24.
With Soft Cell on a lengthy hiatus that would last almost 20 years, Marc’s first solo release, ‘The Boy Who Came Back’, made a modest impact in the UK charts in June 1984, followed later that year by the album Vermin In Ermine. The following April he teamed up with Bronski Beat to record an innovative medley of the Donna Summer classic ‘I Feel Love’ with 60s chart-topper ‘Johnny Remember Me’. It returned Marc to the Top 3 in a 12-week run and appeared to signal a partial return to commercial form with his subsequent solo single, ‘Stories Of Johnny’, also hitting the UK Top 30.
The following years saw some well-received albums in Mother Fist And Her Five Daughters and The Stars We Are, and the occasional hit single along the way, but the pairing with Gene Pitney on a cover of ‘Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart’ gave Marc a surprise chart-topper in January 1989. The success paved the way for a fresh evaluation of the singer, and this interest also led to a return to the charts for ‘Tainted Love’ and ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’. Lightly remixed and promoted with new videos, they hit No.5 and No.38 in the UK charts, respectively.
Working with legendary producer Trevor Horn on the 1991 set Tenement Symphony provided Marc with further chart glory, including his biggest solo smash to date in ‘The Days Of Pearly Spencer’, which peaked at UK No.4. A tour of Russia to promote the album helped to fuel the singer’s passion for the country, which was to have a strong influence on his work in the years to come. A 1996 set, Fantastic Star, was to be Almond’s final major-label solo release and gave him his final solo Top 40 hit to date with ‘Adored And Explored’.
At the dawn of the new century, Marc had just released his autobiography and relocated to Moscow to start work on a long-running project to record Russian folk music. The fruits of that labour, Heart On Snow, were finally released in October 2003 and received strong critical acclaim, with reviewers praising its ambition and credibility. It had followed a couple of more traditional solo releases in Open All Night and Stranger Things.
2002 had also seen the surprise reformation of Soft Cell, with the release of a new album, Cruelty Without Beauty, and a couple of singles, one of which, a cover of Frankie Valli’s ‘The Night’, secured them a slot on the BBC’s Top Of The Pops. The duo played a series of gigs to support the album, but it proved their last significant collaboration to date.
In 2004 Marc was badly injured in a motorbike accident in London and there followed a long period of recovery before he was able to record and perform again. When that rehabilitation was complete, it sparked something of a creative renaissance in the artist, with a staggering work rate in the years since. Marc’s reputation as an outstanding live artist – never venturing near the revival circuit – has been matched by no less than six albums that have been released since 2007. They have included largely covers sets, such as Stardom Road and Orpheus In Exile, and the critical smash The Dancing Marquis, released in 2014.
Soft Cell’s catalogue has been revisited many times with numerous compilations and an expanded release from Universal of Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret in 2008. The singer may be expected to perform ‘Tainted Love’ forever more, but Marc has made peace with the track that will surely outlive us all and, to this day, in part continues to define one of the UK’s most celebrated artists.
Words: Mark Elliott
Marc Almond's newest label jump resulted in what looked like an ideal creation on paper -- two songs produced and co-written by the Grid, the techno duo featuring Almond's Soft Cell collaborator Dave Ball, three more songs worked on with sole surviving Willing Sinner/La Magia member, keyboardist/orchestrator Billy McGee, and a mini-song cycle, "The Tenement Symphony" itself, produced by uber-studio wizard Trevor Horn. But did it work? Much like Enchanted, there's a little too much of Almond getting lost in rote synth-disco for comfort at points. But there are enough pluses to outweigh the minuses -- the opening "Meet Me in My Dream," one of the Grid collaborations, is a beautiful start, equal to "The Stars We Are," while the Symphony itself, though perhaps taking itself a bit too seriously as a conceit, has three solid singles to its credit -- a completely over the top (but what else to expect from Trevor Horn?) version of Jacques Brel's "Jacky," the concluding "My Hand Over My Heart," another sweep of the heartstrings dance ballad, and the surprise U.K. hit single of the bunch, the gentle and (for Horn) understated "The Days of Pearly Spencer," another '60s cover given the Almond treatment to good effect.
Words: Ned Raggett
Another year and another label for Marc Almond, along with a newly stripped-down band, La Magia, with Willing Sinner vets Annie Hogan, Billy McGee, and Steve Humphreys on drums. Even more so than Stories of Johnny, this is Almond with an eye and ear on making a commercial record while still being himself, and the result is much better than expected. Bob Kraushaar's production feels much lighter and brighter in general than Mike Hedges' past efforts, and the songwriting often matches it -- the sprightly opening title track, followed by the tenderly passionate "These My Dreams Are Yours," makes for what has to be the most upbeat start to a Almond album yet. Similar moments crop up throughout the record, including "Bitter Sweet," with a killer sweeping chorus, the sparkling, slightly jazzy "The Very Last Pearl," which gives pulsing nightlife one of its best makeovers ever, and a triumphant, everything-and-the-kitchen-sink version of Gene Pitney's "Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart," replaced on later versions of the album with the U.K.-chart-topping duet with Pitney himself. That said, it's still an Almond album through and through -- the lighter songs still have his sweet purr in the vocals (and Hogan's keyboards and instrumental arrangements remain uniformly excellent), while moodier and expectedly dramatic numbers still turn up in abundance. The forceful duet with Nico, "Your Kisses Burn," calls to mind prime Lee and Nancy, with masses of strings to boot; elsewhere, "The Sensualist" acts as his clearest statement yet on the many erotic joys life has to offer. Perhaps most surprisingly of all, "Tears Run Rings," his most overtly political number to date, became a minor U.S. hit.
Words: Ned Raggett
As Virgin did with the many B-sides and rarities from Almond's days with them, so too did EMI some years later, compiling an intriguing variety of tracks -- 25 all told -- for the ease of shopping by the hardcore Almond fan.
Words: Ned Raggett
Marc Almond's sixth studio album, first released in 1990 includes the tracks 'Madame De La Luna', 'Widow Weeds' and 'A Lover Spurned'.
In his fourth decade as a pop singer, Marc Almond still knows how to tease punters anxious for the next project. Most of his records -- from Soft Cell to Marc & the Mambas to his wildly eclectic solo albums -- have been, more often than not, deeply satisfying and well worth waiting for. The Dancing Marquis is a glorious tease. It pairs the vinyl-only Dancing Marquis and Tasmanian Tiger EPs with a pair of new tracks and two remixes as a precursor to his next release, the soundtrack to his one-man song cycle Ten Plagues, written for him by playwright Mark Ravenhill. There's a bit of everything here. The opening title track (produced by Tony Visconti) walks a jagged line between glam, Stray Cats rockabilly, and bright modern pop. "Burn Bright" features a brief acoustic guitar/brushed snare intro that recalls Lou Reed's "Walk on the Wild Side" before magically transforming itself into one of Almond's finer ballads, orchestrated by strings and a female backing chorus. Now in his fifties, he has lost none of his range or power. He's also kept his deliberately decadent appeal, as evidenced by the Jarvis Cocker-penned "Worship Me Now," boasting jagged, pulsing synths, looped drums, and a keyboard bassline. With tongue firmly in cheek, Almond, egged on by his chorus, elucidates on the quality of his sex appeal and power. (This cut is also the subject of the two remixes by Spatial Awareness and Roland Faber & Kal Luedeling.) "Tasmanian Tiger" is a classic raved-up glam waltz à la Gary Glitter. Libertine guitarist Carl Barat wrote "Love Is Not on Trial," another glorious ballad delivered by the singer with naked yet dramatic effusiveness; a woody upright bass and stinging lead guitar underscore his every word. The most moving cut on the set is "Death of a Dandy," written for the late artist Sebastian Horsley. Commencing as a skeletal small combo number, it adds layer upon layer of instrumentation until it explodes as a full rock band/orchestra/choral number, with a wrangling guitar break adding an undercurrent of pathos to Almond's admiration for his subject. The Dancing Marquis gives fans a couple of new cuts (neither of which will appear on Ten Plagues) and opportunities to revel in the truly unique work of a too often undercelebrated pop stylist.
Words: Thom Jurek