|Origin:||Leeds, England, United Kingdom|
|Label:||Some Bizzare, Sire, Cooking Vinyl, Mute, Vertigo|
|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 David Ball on synthesizers. Lyrics by the duo often focused on love, romance, kinky sex, plastic surgery, transexualism, as well as drugs and murder. The duo is well known for their huge world-wide hit in 1981 with a cover version of "Tainted Love", which made them a one-hit wonder in several countries.
Soft Cell formed in 1978 in Leeds, England. Their initial efforts at recording resulted in an EP called Mutant Moments that year, funded by a loan of £2000 from Dave Ball's mother, made with a simple 2-track recorder. This was released independently with only 2000 vinyl copies pressed and has since become a highly valued collector's item among Soft Cell fans. 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.Their first singles, A Man Can Get Lost 7" and Memorabilia 12" were produced by Daniel Miller, the founder of Mute Records. While the single was a club hit, Soft Cell remained essentially unknown.
Showing impatience in the wake of the chart failure of "Memorabilia", Phonogram Records allowed Soft Cell to record a second and final single in an attempt to score a chart hit. The band opted to record a radically reworked cover version of "Tainted Love", an obscure 1964 northern soul track originally sung 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 number-one hit in seventeen countries, including the United Kingdom, as well as a number-eight single in the United States during 1982, and went on to set a then-Guinness World Record for the longest consecutive stay on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart (43 weeks). The song peaked slowly, taking 19 weeks simply to enter the 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?" by The Supremes. At the peak of the song's popularity, many radio stations opted to play the full medley, utilizing their own edits to shorten the 9-minute track. The song often aired in the United Kingdom on shows such as Top of the Pops.
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 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. Almond also wrote that he dedicated this song to his on-off partner Christian Andrews. While "Tainted Love" was Soft Cell's only Top 40 hit in the United States, they had ten UK Top 40 hits, including "Bedsitter" (#4), "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye" (#2), "Torch" (#2), and "What!" (#3). In addition, the band also had four UK top 20 albums between 1981 - 1984.
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 '80s. Almond expressed regret for this in his book, and chalked the error up to naïveté.
Their first album, 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 music videos by The Cure. The video generated some 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. There is rundown a copy of the original "Sex Dwarf" that can be found on Tim Pope's website.
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.
A dance music show on the Melbourne radio station, Student Youth Network, called their show Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret after the album.
By 1983, the shadow of "Tainted Love" was beginning to haunt the band, and the pressures of stardom, not to mention the constant drug use, were taking their 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 remix album with a full length album 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 1984, they had decided amicably to dissolve the band and released one final album called This Last Night in Sodom, 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 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 keep in touch. Dave Ball's ex-wife played cello in Marc Almond's solo band. Almond and David Ball did not work again together until the nineties, when Ball remixed one of Almond's singles (Waifs And Strays) and arranged some music for Almond's "Tenement Symphony album". David Ball formed The Grid in 1990 with Richard Norris. The Grid split up in 1996, but reformed in 2005 and released an album in 2008 on the Some Bizzare label called Doppelgänger.
Almond and Ball's reunion as Soft Cell became official with well-received initial concerts - they performed at the opening of the Ocean nightclub in London in March 2001 to strong reviews, 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 in 2001. The album Cruelty Without Beauty was released in late 2002, followed by a European tour and a partial US tour in early 2003. The new album featured their first new songs together in almost twenty years. One of those songs was their 2003 single "The Night" (UK #39). Interestingly, Soft Cell had considered recording "The Night" in place of "Tainted Love" back in 1981 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 [in 1981]."
In August 2007 the band announced plans to release a remix album, "Heat - The Remixes". The remix album was released in November 2008 and includes classic 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.