Archive for Soft Cell

In praise (and memory) of the synth riff

Posted in Observations with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 30, 2013 by softsynth

Was just listening to Book of Love’s “Enchanted” which came up on the iPhone shuffle and was struck by how cool the riff is. Book of Love were great at the synth riff, and employed it regularly throughout their all-too-short career. Not surprising as they were so brazenly modelled on Depeche Mode, as DM were as of 1985 when BoL made their debut. The Mode were champions of the synth riff. Think of the moments – “Just Can’t Get Enough” (or for that matter, every single song from Speak & Spell), “Get the Balance Right”, “Everything Counts”, “Master and Servant”, “People are People”, “Shake the Disease”, and many many more – some classics, most pretty special in their own way, and that just in the band’s first five years.

They were far from alone, think of the defining sounds of early synth pop from the golden era – O.M.D.’s “Enola Gay”, Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love”, aha’s “Take On Me”, Men Without Hats’ “Safety Dance”, Gary Numan’s “Cars”, Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me”, Yazoo’s “Don’t Go”…or “Situation”…or “Nobody’s Diary”…or you know, just any song from Yazoo. The list is far too long to write. One can reflect back to some of the finest moments of the genre and the riff was dominant. Some were particularly good at it – New Order did ’em great, few were better at it than Vince Clarke, Numan was terrific at it and of course Kraftwerk pioneered the trick. It was the stuff of iconic music moments.  Continue reading


On reunions

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , on September 15, 2011 by softsynth

Softsynth made a total spectacle of itself in the lead-up to the release of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark’s reunion album, History of Modern, last year. We talked about it in such giddy anticipation that “History of Modern” still ranks in the cloud next to this post as one of the most used keywords on the blog in all three years of our existence. See, O.M.D. was so crazy-influential on a young Softsynth and such a gateway drug to the hard stuff in the world of electronic music that their back catalogue isn’t just loved in memorium, it’s downright revered. Such is what happens with the passage of time after the demise of a much-loved band. Our “Bands We Miss” series speaks directly to this nostalgic longing (and also points to just how badly this blogger lives in the past).

But we digress. Continue reading

Music by the numbers vs. a touch of soul

Posted in Commentary with tags , , on August 11, 2011 by softsynth

For decades electronic music has been accused of being “soulless” yet so much of the best electronic output has been chock full of the strongest emotional appeal and soul dredged up right from the gut. Instead it’s some of the most popular mainstream music that has had every ounce of soul or meaning sucked from its’ marrow.

Softsynth has recently read illuminating articles on Dr. Luke (in Rolling Stone) and Black Eyed Peas’ Will i am (in various wire stories) where each practically reveled in their absence of heart and/or soul. The former sees creation of a good song as a science, the latter as part of some mathematical equation. In neither case is there any room for deeper meaning either in the chord structure or lyrics.

One of the more frustrating things about the knock on electronic music is its lack of any emotion beneath the surface, behind the machines. The implication being, music made by machines rather than by bashing a fretted or skinned instrument cannot, by default, possess heart, soul or feel. Bullshit, says we. Continue reading

Bands We Miss – Soft Cell

Posted in Commentary with tags on March 8, 2010 by softsynth

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. Continue reading

Electronic cover versions

Posted in Commentary, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 23, 2010 by softsynth

While listening to the new Collide album (which we were pretty hard on in our review, it still stands but some of these tracks have held up better than we would have thought…) Softsynth was struck by the number of songs that seemed like odd matches with a predominantly electronic band (John Lennon?) Got us to thinking about some of the great cover versions given new life by electronic bands over the years (and some of the noble failures. And some of the just plain shitty treatments).

Some of the early great electronic recordings were cover versions, none more notable than Daniel Miller’s 1979/80 Silicon Teens project which was mostly synthpop covers of classic rock songs from the 50s and early 60s.

It didn’t always work (like the too-twee-by-half “Judy in Disguise”) but sometimes, like the fantastic version of the Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” it made for really refreshing takes on the classics.

Bands like Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark and The Human League diddled about with covers (Velvet Underground’s “Waiting for the Man”, the “Nightclubbing/Rock n Roll” amalgam, respectively) in the early days of their careers and the likes of Depeche Mode messed about with classics like “The Price of Love” before becoming full-fledged recording artists.

Perhaps the most successful well-known electronic cover was Soft Cell’s monster 1981 hit single, their version of the Northern Soul classic “Tainted Love” (which for decades had the distinction of being the song to log the most weeks on billboard’s Hot 100 Singles chart). Continue reading

Ten essential electronic albums – Part III and IV

Posted in Commentary with tags , , , , , , , , on February 20, 2009 by softsynth

And on we go. We arrive at the 80’s. There were many more great albums that saw us through the tail end of the 70’s from Can, Throbbing Gristle, DAF, Neu, Einsturzen Neubauten, even at very end the Silicon Teens, but while all made an indelible impact on different aspects of the genre it would be some time before the more industrial acts, in particular, felt their true resonance (Neubauten in particular were ridiculously influential, and yes, important to the growth of the genre, but their influence owed more to a movement, to a sound, to a general sense of pushing boundaries and experimentation than to a particular album in my opinion. I’ll revisit Neubauten in a separate post before long, because frankly, they deserve it.). The next major waves were in the synthpop vein. For it was this subgenre that opened the doors to mainstream audiences finally embracing music made by machines in conjunction with their humans. Their influence is still felt today.

Continue reading