|Years Active:||1978 - 1984|
2001 - present
|Label:||Some Bizzare, Mute Records|
|Associated Acts:||Marc and the Mambas, The Grid|
|Current Members:||Marc Almond|
Soft Cell are an English synthpop duo who came to prominence in the early 1980s. They consist of vocalist Marc Almond and instrumentalist David Ball. The duo is most widely known for their 1981 worldwide hit version of "Tainted Love" and platinum debut Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret. In the UK, they had ten Top 40 hits, including "Bedsitter" (#4), "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye" (#3), "Torch" (#2), and "What!" (#3), and also had four Top 20 albums between 1981 and 1984. The duo split in 1984, but reformed in the early 2000s to tour and released a new album in 2002. Their songs have been covered by various artists including Nine Inch Nails, David Gray, Nouvelle Vague, Marilyn Manson and A-ha. Soft Cell's track "Memorabilia" earned recognition for the band as pioneers of techno style. The duo have sold 10 million records worldwide.
Soft Cell was initiated during 1978 after Almond and Ball met at Leeds Polytechnic. Their initial efforts at recording resulted that year in an EP called Mutant Moments, which was funded by a loan of £2000 from Dave Ball's mother, and made with a simple 2-track recorder. This was released independently with only 2000 vinyl copies pressed and has since become a highly valued collectors item. Their early shows and EP caught the interest of certain record labels, such as Mute Records and Some Bizzare Records, both of which pioneered the new wave of synthesizer bands like Depeche Mode. Soft Cell's next recording, "The Girl with the Patent Leather Face", appeared as a contribution to the Some Bizzare Album, which featured then-unknown bands such as Depeche Mode, The The, and Blancmange. The duo ultimately signed to the Some Bizarre label, backed by Phonogram Records. Their first singles, "A Man Can Get Lost" 7" and "Memorabilia" 12" were produced by Daniel Miller, the founder of Mute Records. While "Memorabilia" was a success in nightclubs, Soft Cell remained essentially unknown.
See also: Tainted Love. After the chart failure of "Memorabilia", Phonogram Records allowed Soft Cell to record a second and final single in an attempt to score a chart success. The band opted to record a radically reworked cover version of "Tainted Love", an obscure 1964 northern soul track sung originally by Gloria Jones (the girlfriend of Marc Bolan) and written by Ed Cobb of The Four Preps.
Released in 1981, Soft Cell's "Tainted Love" was a No. 1 hit in 17 countries, including the United Kingdom, as well as a No. 8 single in the United States during 1982, and went on to set a Guinness World Record at the time for the longest consecutive stay (43 weeks) on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song's popularity developed slowly, needing 19 weeks to enter the U.S. Top 40. The A-side of the 12 inch single of "Tainted Love" actually featured a two-song medley, with "Tainted Love" blending into the Motown classic "Where Did Our Love Go" (originally recorded by The Supremes, also in 1964).
According to Marc Almond's book Tainted Life, Soft Cell had exited the "Tainted Love" recording sessions with only modest expectations that the track might break into the UK Top 50. Furthermore, 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. Almond also wrote that he dedicated this song to his sometime partner Christian Andrews.
Usually, an artist releasing a cover version as a single would opt to write the song that appears on the B-side as this would still entitle the artist to some songwriting royalties stemming from sales of that single. However, as Soft Cell wrote neither "Tainted Love" nor "Where Did Our Love Go" (the 7" B-side track), they lost the opportunity to make a greater sum of money from songwriting royalties stemming from one of the most popular songs of the 1980s. Almond expressed regret for this in his book, and attributed the error to naïveté.
The duo's first album, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, hit UK #5 and further explored the now-trademark Soft Cell themes of squalour 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 titled Non-Stop Exotic Video Show was released alongside the album and featured videos directed by Tim Pope. The video generated some controversy in Britain, mainly due to the scandal involved with the "Sex Dwarf" clip. 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 transvestites. A copy of the original "Sex Dwarf" can be found on Tim Pope's website.
During 1982, the duo spent most of their time recording and relaxing in New York City, where they met a woman named Cindy Ecstasy whom Almond would later confirm was his drug supplier (it was Cindy Ecstasy who introduced them to the new nightclub drug of the same name). The duo released a second album, a 6-track mini album entitled Non-stop Ecstatic Dancing which contained remixes of older material along with their new hit single "What!". Almond would later admit that the album was recorded and mixed under the influence of ecstasy. "What!" placed at number 101 in US Charts.
By 1983, fame and nearly constant drug use were having a bad effect on the duo. 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's third album release, appropriately titled The Art of Falling Apart, was a Top 5 hit in the UK but the singles were only modest successes. The duo once again generated some controversy when their second single from the album, "Numbers", was banned by the BBC due to references in the song to the drug speed. The album is highly esteemed by the leader of Nine Inch Nails Trent Reznor.
By 1984, the duo had amicably decided to end Soft Cell. They played farewell concerts at Hammersmith Palais in January, and released one final album called This Last Night in Sodom (UK #12). Headed by the duo's final single "Down In The Subway" (UK #24), the album departed from its predecessors by featuring more live drums and guitars than previous albums. However, the controversial 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 communicate with each other. Dave Ball's ex-wife played violin in Marc Almond's solo band, though Almond and Ball did not work again together until 1990 when Ball remixed one of Almond's singles ("Waifs And Strays") and co-wrote and arranged some music for Almond's Tenement Symphony album in 1991. David Ball formed The Grid during 1990 with Richard Norris. The Grid ended in 1996, but reformed during 2005 and released an album during 2008 with the Some Bizzare company, named Doppelgänger.
Almond and Ball reunited as Soft Cell in 2001, with a series of live dates. They performed at the opening of the Ocean nightclub in London during March 2001, and a mini tour followed later in the year. The track "God Shaped Hole" featured on the Some Bizzare compilation titled I'd Rather Shout at a Returning Echo than Kid Someone's Listening, released during 2001. A new Soft Cell album, Cruelty Without Beauty, was released during late 2002, followed by a European tour and a small U.S. tour during early 2003. The new album featured their first new songs together in almost twenty years, including their 2003 single "The Night" (UK #39). Soft Cell had considered recording "The Night" in place of "Tainted Love" during 1981 as their frantic attempt to score a chart success. 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 [in 1981]."
During August 2007, the band announced plans to release a remix album entitled Heat. The remix album was released in November 2008 and included Soft Cell tracks remixed by such acts as Paul Dakeyne, The Grid, Manhattan Clique, Cicada, Richard X, Ladytron, MHC, Atomizer, Mark Moore, Kinky Roland, Spektrum, George Demure, Yer Man, The Dark Poets and many more.
See main article: Soft Cell discography.