thu 22/02/2024

Music Reissues Weekly: Soft Cell - Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret | reviews, news & interviews

Music Reissues Weekly: Soft Cell - Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret

Music Reissues Weekly: Soft Cell - Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret

Head-spinning box-set makeover of Marc Almond and Dave Ball’s landmark 1981 debut album

Marc Almond and Dave Ball in 1981, as they were for the cover of 'Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret'Peter Ashworth

"Both of us have always enjoyed listening to dance music, and we wanted to interpret disco in our own way. We wanted to make good quality soulful electronic dance music, more biting than the usual bland disco stuff. We wanted to make records that would stand out in a disco and that you could listen to in your own bedroom."

Speaking to NME’s Paul Morley in May 1981, Soft Cell’s Marc Almond clearly expressed where he and Dave Ball intended to go with their music. At this point, the duo had not issued much. October 1980’s barely available Mutant Moments EP was followed by one track on the February 1981 compilation LP the Some Bizzare Album and the next month's “A Man Could Get Lost”/“Memorabilia” single – from which, the latter track was picking up club play.

Soft Cell_Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret box setThrough Some Bizarre’s boss Stevo, Soft Cell were plugging in to the Futurist scene, a counterpart to New Romanticism. But if they were to escape the confines of cultiness, they needed something else to help them achieve Almond’s stated aim. That came in July 1981 with the release of the “Tainted Love” single.

With this, Soft Cell had made a monumental record “that would stand out in a disco and that you could listen to in your own bedroom.” It was, indeed, “good quality soulful electronic dance music.” What Almond said a couple of months before “Tainted Love” went on sale was not empty rhetoric.

Moreover, the next single – October 1981’s “Bedsitter” – was another hit. It wasn’t “Tainted Love” part two. It was different. A moody vignette of solitude in the big city, and not so far from the musical pen portraits drawn by Ray Davies. Timeless. Next up was November’s debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret. A further smash.

soft cell tainted loveThey seemed unstoppable. In 1982, “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye,” “Torch,” “What!” and “Where the Heart is” were singles in January, May, August and November. The remix album Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing arrived that June. Every release was wonderful. Irrespective of any reductive electropop or synth-pop branding, Soft Cell had ascended to the upper ranks of British pop. Much of this and a lot more is collected by what’s marketed as “The Ultimate Edition” of Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, a whopping 98-track, six-CD box set.

Soft Cell split in 1984 and reunited in 2000. Despite odd bumps since then, they are still together. Complementing their new material, post-reformation revisits to the past have gone further than standard best-ofs or live performances of old material. A set of 1981 to 1983 BBC recordings was issued in 2003. Two interesting albums of very early demos appeared in 2005.The Keychains & Snowstorms box set came out in September 2018. Its nine CDs and one DVD dug into the whole of Soft Cell and moved beyond the original iteration of the duo. Two of its discs collected new or recent mixes of old tracks, mostly undertaken by Dave Ball. Intriguingly, Soft Cell were not averse to redrafting their own past. This topography defines much of the new Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret box.

soft cell bedsitterIt’s a considerable package to get to grips with, but a pointer to how this is not a straightforward document of the 1981 and 1982 Soft Cell comes with the realisation that, despite the inclusion of many remixes or 12-inch mixes from the period as well as multiple versions of all the tracks, Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing is not included. The 1982 set's "A Man Could Get Lost," "Chips on my Shoulder," "Memorabilia," "Sex Dwarf" and "Where Did Our Love go" were different to what had already been issued or were fresh mixes. These are not included on the new box set. Completism is not the goal here.

While Disc One’s new master of the Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret LP and the ensuing contemporaneous material sound extraordinary due to their hitherto unheard clarity and presence, things become less clear-cut with the arrival of Disc Two. This combines new mixes from 2023 with mixes from 2018 which were already on Keychains & Snowstorms (there is also one from 2021) and the 1982 12-inch mix of “Bedsitter.” The achronological blend of the new, recent and original makes for a disconcerting listen. The past is now. Now is the past.

Similarly, on Disc Three radio and TV recordings from 1981 and 1982 are grouped in three chunks, before and between which are more new mixes from 2023 and live recordings from 2002 and 2018. The disc ends with a fantastic, rough-edged 1981 take of “Tainted Love” which wasn’t issued at the time. This is an even weirder listen than Disc Two.

soft cell say hello wave goodbyeThe temporal slippages continue. Disc Four is roughly half-and-half newly created instrumental versions of old tracks made from the old multi-track masters and terrific demos from 1981 (most of these were heard on Keychains & Snowstorms). Next, Disc Five winds it back to the Eighties by collecting 12” versions issued back then. The box ends with a final disc of live recordings from 2021, where the whole of Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret was performed, and 2018. Early shows could also have been drawn from. There are mid-ish fi live tapes from 1981 – Leeds Warehouse 2 February 1981 and Leeds Amnesia Club 26 May 1981 – and it would have nice were these included for an aural peek at what audiences experienced en route to “Tainted Love” and the first album. The tape of their Futurama Festival appearance from 1 September 1980 is, alas, of such poor sound quality that it is unreleasable.

The presentation of this provocative box set is immaculate. The book has a great, insightful essay by Adrian Thrills. Marc Almond and Dave Ball have been interviewed. The design is crisp, and the illustrations are lovely too. These are offset by the head-spinning combination of recent live material and fresh/fresh-ish mixes made from the original tapes which are interposed into material issued in the Eighties.

Fittingly, in an opening paragraph of his text, Adrian Thrills describes Soft Cell’s career as “a disorderly roller-coaster ride that continues today.” Near the end, Marc Almond is quoted saying “Dave and I will carry on being creative.” As the Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret box set confirms, this on-going creativity respects no boundaries.

@MrKieronTyler

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