Soft Cell - The Singles
Before punk shook the stale complacency out of the popular music industry, someone like Marc Almond, camp and outrageously homosexual, would have struggled to get near mainstream TV on a pop show. Yet he, and only he, could have got away with singing some of the stuff here, not just in terms of content but also in terms of style. If glam rock had a child, that child would have been Marc Almond who was as difficult as his parent, but was not afraid to make a public issue of it.
And so many of their songs were classics of their time, with "Tainted Love" being the outstanding example. So closely is this track now associated with the band that they have effectively made it their own - come on, how many of you remember who recorded it first? Exactly. Then take "Say Hello Wave Goodbye" which has a beautiful lyrical arrangement too, really conveying the sadness of the moment. People often claim, and I have to admit that I can be counted among their number on occasion, that synth pop can be inflexible and tending towards the soulless and the sterile. If you hold to that view, listen to this compilation and your mind will soon be changed.
The interesting thing is that Soft Cell could actually be much deeper than they are often given credit for. "Down In the Subway" is about a night club murder and has nothing to do with trains. It's not often you get social commentary delivered in pop music in a way which is not either exploitative or clichéd, but Soft Cell manage it on more than one occasion. Pop this may be, but this was pop with a conscience if you were prepared to put in the effort to listen to it. This went beyond the usual trite and pointless lyrics of some of their contemporaries. After all, who gives a flying f**k if his name is "Rio" and he is unable to sail a yacht to save his life.
As a singles collection by one of the earliest exponents of the synth pop cross overs who benefited from Tubeway Army's ground breaking single and the ground broken by Ultravox before them, this is an essential compilation. It encapsulates what Soft Cell, and that exciting period in the early eighties, were about on all levels - challenging, danceable, mainstream and controversial. That is not a claim that can be made about all of their contemporaries, or those of the New Romantics who followed them. The only downside to the album is that Soft Cell were not consistent, and some of their singles were poor. Still, even if you are not sure whether the music is worth it, this is worth a purchase just to reminisce.
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