Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Soft Cell were an English synthesizer duo during the early 1980s (currently re-formed). They consisted of Marc Almond (vocals) and David Ball (synthesizers). Their lyrics often focused on the darker side of life, with subjects such as kinky sex, transvestism, drugs and murder. They had a huge world-wide hit in 1981 with a cover version of "Tainted Love", a northern soul classic originally sung by Gloria Jones (the wife of Marc Bolan).
Both Marc Almond and David Ball grew up in seaside towns (the former, Southport, and the latter, Blackpool), and later met while students at the Leeds Polytechnic Fine Arts University . Almond, a performance artist, collaborated with Ball on a few avante-garde multi-media performances at the university. Although Ball's musical background consisted of guitar, he had access to the university studio and was experimenting with the nascent synthesizer technology at the time. The two students became the prototypical synth duo and were initially associated with other New Wave scenesters dubbed "New Romantics" by the British Press. Other bands associated with this scene included Visage, Duran Duran, and Spandau Ballet.
Their initial efforts at recording resulted in an E.P. called Mutant Moments, made with simply a 2-track recorder. This was released independently with very few vinyl copies pressed and has since become a highly valued collector's item among Soft Cell fans. Their early shows and E.P. caught the interest of certain record labels, such as Mute Records and Some Bizzare both of which pioneered the new wave of synthesizer bands. Soft Cell's next recording, "The Girl with the Patent Leather Face," appeared as a contribution to the Some Bizzare compilation, which featured other (then unknown) bands such as Depeche Mode, The The, and Blancmange.
Their first single, "Memorabilia," was produced by Daniel Miller , the founder of Mute Records. While the single was a minor club hit, Soft Cell remained essentially unknown. Showing impatience, Soft Cell's record label permitted them to release one final single in an attempt to score a chart hit. The band opted to record a radically reworked cover version of an obscure 1975 Gloria Jones track penned by Ed Cobb of The Four Preps. That song was "Tainted Love." Released in 1981, "Tainted Love" was a #1 hit in seventeen countries, including England, as well as a #8 single in the United States, and went on to set a then-Guinness World Record for the longest consecutive stay on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 Charts (43 weeks). According to Marc Almond's book, "Tainted Life", Soft Cell had left the "Tainted Love" recording sessions with only modest expectations that the track might dent the UK Top 50. Further, Almond wrote that his only significant contribution to the song's instrumentation (besides the vocals) was the suggestion that the song begin with a characteristic "bink bink" sound which would repeat periodically throughout. While Tainted Love was Soft Cell's only major hit in the United States, the band had a string of hits in England, including "Bedsitter", "Torch" and "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye", each of which broke the U.K. Top 5.
Their first L.P. called "Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret," further explored the trademark Soft Cell themes of squalor and sleaze. "Seedy Films" talks of long nights in porno cinemas, while "Frustration" and "Secret Life" deal with the boredom and hypocrisy associated with suburban life. A companion video entitled "Non-Stop Exotic Video Show" was released alongside the album and featured videos directed by Tim Pope , who later found fame as director of some memorable videos by The Cure. The video generated a little controversy in Britain, mainly due to the scandal involved with the "Sex Dwarf" promotional film. The original version of the music video featured Almond and Ball in a bloody butcher shop surrounded by chainsaws, nude actors, and dwarves. However, the film was confiscated by police and censored before it was even released. As a tongue-in-cheek substitute, a re-filmed "Sex Dwarf" appeared in "Non-Stop Exotic Video Show" featuring Almond dressed in a tuxedo, directing a symphony orchestra of dwarves.
In 1982, the duo spent most of their time recording and relaxing in New York City, where they met a woman named Cindy Ecstasy . It was Cindy Ecstasy who introduced them to the new club drug of the same name. By their own admission, most of "Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing" was recorded and mixed under the influence of ecstasy.
By now, the shadow of "Tainted Love" was beginning to haunt the band, and the pressures of stardom were taking its toll. Marc Almond also formed the group Marc and the Mambas, featuring collaborations with The The's Matt Johnson and future Almond collaborator Annie Hogan , as an offshoot in order to experiment out of the glare of the Soft Cell spotlight. Soft Cell followed their re-mix album with a full length L.P. appropriately titled "The Art of Falling Apart." The singles were modest successes in Britain. Again, Soft Cell courted some controversy when their second single from the album, "Numbers," was banned from the BBC due to references in the song to the drug speed.
By 1983, they had decided to amicably dissolve the band and released one final L.P. called "This Last Night in Sodom,"(1984) a critical success but a commercial failure. The album departed from its predecessors by having a much grittier feel, featuring more live drums and guitars than previous albums. However, the sleazy subject matter still remained true to the Soft Cell ethos, with songs such as L'Esqualita that glamourized transvestite culture in Manhattan.
During Almond's solo years, he and Ball continued to keep in touch. As a matter of fact, Dave Ball's wife played cello in Marc Almond's solo band. Almond and David Ball did not work again together until the nineties, when Ball arranged some music for Almond's "Tenement Symphony." Their reunion as Soft Cell became official with well-received initial concerts followed by the release of "Cruelty Without Beauty" in 2003, featuring their first new songs together in almost 20 years. One of those songs was their 2003 hit single "The Night" (UK #39). Soft Cell had considered recording "The Night" back in 1981 in place of "Tainted Love" as their last-ditch attempt to score a chart hit. In a 2003 interview with BBC's Top of the Pops, keyboardist David Ball asserted "I think history has kind of shown that we did make the right choice."
- Mutant Moments E.P.
- Non-stop Erotic Cabaret
- Non-stop Ecstatic Dancing (remix record)
- The Art of Falling Apart
- This Last Night In Sodom
- Cruelty Without Beauty
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