Soft Cell - Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret - Review
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critics' view

Thirty five years ago, on 27th November 1981, an exciting new Synthpop act, Soft Cell, released their debut album entitled Non Stop Erotic Cabaret. The album was immediately a worldwide hit, aided in no small part by their recent number one single smash hit single Tainted Love, which went through the roof commercially, surprising the creative duo from Leeds more than anyone.

Soft Cell were formed when performance art student Marc Almond and music technician David Ball met at Leeds Polytechnic (as was) in one of those kismet moments. Dave was tinkering on his synths in the Poly’s music room when Marc happened to be walking past, heard the other worldly synthetic sounds emitting from the room, and decided to investigate. And so the most influential musical duo since Lennon and McCartney was born.

The album’s lead song Tainted Love was the perfect “in” to the overall theme of the album. As a 13-year old, I remember excitedly bringing my own copy of the vinyl home, and it being appraised by my mother. Observing the dodgy looking brown package being tucked into Marc’s leather coat on the cover and then turning it over to reveal the neon sex signage of Soho on the reverse, my mum asked “Is this suitable?” I cheekily replied in only the way a teenage fan girl could, “Probably not, but that’s why I like it!” She needn’t have worried much about the dodgy looking brown package anyway. The ‘offending item’ on the cover was a packet of sandwiches wrapped up in brown paper and merely used as a prop! However Soft Cell has encapsulated the teenage me and went a long way to being the catalyst for my developing musical, creative and social preferences. And for that I will be eternally grateful.

Tainted Love topped the charts worldwide and became the best-selling British single of 1981, in the United States remained on the Billboard Top 100 for over a year. As a result of the single’s success, the album had reported advance orders of more than 200k copies and went on to produce two further top five singles in the UK with Bedsitter and Say Hello Wave Goodbye, the latter of which is sung as the closing anthem to most of Marc Almond’s show these days.

There isn’t a bad track on this album. In my opinion it’s pure pop perfection. From the off-kilter commercialism of their hit singles, to the oh so poignant lyrics of Chips on my Shoulder and Frustration, to the gloomily dark Youth which cleverly sets the tone of the song some many years in the future from 1981, reflecting how “youth had gone…”

Secret Life and Seedy Films however may have given my mother a little more cause for parental concern, as they delved deeply into another world of sex and sin, a theme that was most famously and outrageously performed in Sex Dwarf. The video produced for this song contained images of butchery, dwarves, blood, chains, gore, hysteria, leather harnesses and generally fulfilling every horror story chain massacre scenario you could think of. Consequently and unsurprisingly it was banned, immediately securing its place as one of the most notorious pop videos of all time.

The album itself was created on a very low budget; with borrowed equipment and synths belonging to producers Mike Thorne. Despite its humble beginnings it had stood the test of time and is now a much-loved classic of the early eighties Synthpop genre.

Ange Chan
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