Bands We Miss – Soft Cell

When we hark back to the Golden Age of electronic music one of the bands that causes us to think on and smile is the UK’s Soft Cell. Most famous for their cover of the Northern Soul classic “Tainted Love” they were actually so much more. What they were, more than anything else, actually, was sleazy. Like dirty dark clubs, sex in bathrooms, cruising about at 4:00 AM sleazy and it was awesome. The sleaze became an inherent part of their sound and no other band has come close to creating this incredible atmopsphere since with the possible exception of Client (who are still a poor cousin to Dave Ball and Marc Almond in that department).

Initially their output, like their contribution to the early ’81 compilation Some Bizzare Album, “The Girl With the Patent Leather Face”, had decidedly industrial influences. They cleaned up a little though and recorded the tight, electro-pop classic Non Stop Erotic Cabaret, which was filled with yearning and sex and drugs and buried not all that far beneath the surface, raging homosexuality (hard to believe in 2010 that someone like Almond would have even bothered being officially in the closet but then 1981 was a different time). They were huge in the clubs and plastered all over the charts in the UK, and even in the US where “Tainted Love” was a huge stateside hit. But the album was a lot more than “Tainted Love”. “Seedy Films” was an ode to porn theatres, “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” was the perfect farewell song, heartbreaking and beautiful, “Secret Life” was a tribute to those in suburbia (a common Soft Cell theme) who had a little something extra going on, and “Sex Dwarf” was…well, was kind of self-explanatory.

They would never record anything as perfect as their debut with it’s crunchy primitive synths and moaning vocals, but follow-ups  The Art of Falling Apart and This Last Night in Sodom had their share of memorable moments including “Heat” and the sleaze-drone of “Baby Doll” on the former and “Soul Inside” and the surprisingly competent cover of the Bond theme “You Only Live Twice”. They disbanded in a drug haze in 1984 and one of the most promising bands of the movement were lost to us.

However almost 20 years later they came back together, first for a little nostalgia touring which was becoming so de rigeur at the time, and then, in 2002, for a new full length album, Cruelty Without Beauty, which sounded as though they had never been away, and was, end to end a welcome return, exceeding expectations. Sadly since that time, other than a few remix projects things have returned to quiet on the Soft Cell front causing us to miss them all over again. The hope is, having returned from the abyss, that Almond and Ball are free to record again as they so wish, when they are so inclined. Here’s hoping they feel the inspiration again some day soon.

Watch: Say Hello, Wave Goodbye


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