I am going through a bit of a 1980’s retrospect and delving into some of the albums released during that decade. I was inspired to do this after picking up Spandau Ballet “True” from a charity shop and wanted to look further at a select few projects released through the decade.
A video had come up on YouTube of Soft Cell’s Marc Almond performing “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” on BBC’s Jools Holland show in 2018. I love that song and thought Almond really sung it well and realised that other than the obvious tracks I know little else about Soft Cell and their discography.
So of course, the beginning is always where to start and “Non Stop Erotic Cabaret” is the debut album released by duo Marc Almond and David Ball in 1981.
Having come off the back of listening to something so clean and polished such as “True” by Spandau Ballet to then move onto Soft Cell too some adjusting but it was welcome as I feel I need more in my music than just plain fair and this album is not that.
Perhaps at the time of release this album wouldn’t have seen as innovative as it does now because everything at times seems all over the place, but it is exactly because of those things that makes this album unique and very special.
“Frustration” is a great example of the album’s sound because it’s so very messy with so much going on, but I absolutely love it. The feeling of frustration and being all up in the air is captured perfectly on this excellent opener. It’s loud and brash and unapologetic.
The big hit on the album is of course “Tainted Love” which is one of the biggest hits of the decade. A cover of the 1965 Northern Soul track performed by Gloria Jones is the most established and well-known version of the song which is testament to Soft Cell to have taken a track and made it synonymous with them alone. (It was the bestselling single of 1981)
It’s a great song and its so instantly recognizable. Those synth sounds are a historic moment in 1980’s music and Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” is one of the finest songs released in that decade.
“Seedy Films” ramps up the sleezy vibe that the album is aiming to create. It’s a look into the subject of sex and prostitution. The act of meeting someone just to have sex is something Almond is keen to throw at you on this album and whilst this track perhaps goes on for a minute too long it is engaging, and you feel a little smutty listening to it which I kind of like.
“Youth” is one of the best songs on the entire set. The dark atmosphere created by these searing synths take you on a wonderful journey. It’s a story of nostalgia, regret and pain.
It’s a lonely sounding song about the hardship of getting older and that being on your own is a result of the ageing process which all in all sounds quite depressing but its such a great sounding song.
The most fun song on the album is “Sex Dwarf”. This is utterly infectious, and it is on this track where Soft Cell push the limits of sexuality as far as they can. This song is there to cause shock and awe. It wants you to feel uncomfortable and wishes for you to imagine vividly what they are talking about.
This song got into my head. There is something almost wrong about listening to it and when I was trying to investigate this album, I kept going to this track first as I couldn’t wait to just hear it again.
“Sex Dwarf” is so frantic and disgustingly memorable I doubt anyone who hears it would be able to forget it.
“Entertain Me” continues with that frantic pace as after an acapella beginning it burst into life with this jumpy melody that keeps you on your toes.
Like many of the songs on “Non Stop Erotic Cabaret” the tone is deliberately vulgar but also self-aware. Almond isn’t saying these things with a delusional sensibility, instead he is promoting a side of life that is a desire and fantasy for many and allowing those who give themselves this freedom a chance to embrace it through the music.
Almond doesn’t want to be ordinary or boring. He wants excitement and maybe on this album he displays a position of futility in wanting to be free, but he wants to prod at the establishment as much as he possibly can.
Almost seamlessly “Entertain Me” moves into “Chips on My Shoulder”.
This is basically an attack on all those who moan about everything. Almond bellows out “Misery, Complaints, Self-Pity, Injustice”.
I should have told you
I’ve chips on my shoulder
I’m making a stand
While I sit on my arse
It’s a superb critique on society and despite this album being released in 1981 it is still so very relevant today that people want to complain a lot but are not willing to stand up and do anything about it.
The frantic synth beats are ever relentless, and this is another noisy journey into the world of Soft Cell.
The 8th track “Bedsitter” was a bit of a grower for me as I didn’t connect with it initially due to it’s basic melody and jarring hook.
But it’s a fascinating track with its content again being a critique on social conventions and how so many live their lives. It’s a song of loneliness and what we would consider as depression today.
I think it’s time to cook a meal
To fill the emptiness I feel
Spend my money going out
I’ve nothing in I’m left without
Clean my teeth and comb my hair
And look for something new to wear
And start the night life over again
And kid myself I’m having fun
“Secret Life” is my least enjoyed song on the project. Instrumentally it isn’t the most engaging and soon bores me. The lyrical content to me is about some one being blackmailed possibly because of an affair with someone of the same sex.
My absolute favourite song on the album is the final track “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye”.
The beauty I find in this song is one I find hard to let go of. It’s mellow dramatic, engaging, sad, funny and the way Almond tells this story with a very wandering vocal performance makes this quite simply an outstanding song.
My interpretation is that our protagonist is in a relationship where there is little attraction, yet they keep going for reasons I can only believe is due to habit.
There is something so atmospheric about the song that it always makes me stop and listen with everything around me fading into the background.
A beautiful song and a fantastic way to end the album.
Having not been that familiar with the discography of Soft Cell I was delighted with what I found on this album and believe this to be an innovative and fantastic piece of work which was way ahead of it’s time.
If you enjoy the synth pop sounds of the 80’s then this album should be put on the list of projects to listen to because it captures everything wonderful about synth pop.