Skip to main content
CNN Europe CNN Asia
On CNN TV Transcripts Headline News CNN International About Preferences
powered by Yahoo!

The return of Soft Cell

Synth-pop pioneers release first album in 18 years

By Todd Leopold

Soft Cell
Soft Cell: Dave Ball and Marc Almond

   Story Tools

more audio AUDIO

(CNN) -- Remember Soft Cell? You know, that '80s duo who did the synth-pop cover of the soul nugget "Tainted Love," which was inescapable 20 years ago?

Of course you do. You may also remember the band's decadent edge -- its most successful U.S. album was called "Non-stop Erotic Cabaret," which featured a song called "Sex Dwarf" -- and those of you with very good '80s memories will recall singer Marc Almond's late-decade hit "Tears Run Rings," and perhaps his collaborations with Matt Johnson and Gene Pitney.

Soft Cell never really went away, says Almond. Sure, the '80s synth-pop pioneers may have split up in 1984, but Almond and keyboardist Dave Ball stayed in touch, and now they've reteamed for Soft Cell's first album in 18 years, "Cruelty Without Beauty" (Cooking Vinyl/spinART).

"A couple of years ago, I called Dave up to write some songs," Almond says in a phone interview from London, England. "It just snowballed from there and became a Soft Cell record. There's still a strong chemistry between us."

'We're different people now'

Of course, the interests of two young men in their 20s are much different than two career musicians in their 40s. Almond says the new album reflects the layoff.

'We're different people now'

"You can't ignore 17 years of making music. We're different people now," he says. "But it had to sound like a Soft Cell record. We write about different things -- but not that different."

After all, he says, the pair liked to couple bouncy electronic melodies to perverse, sometimes ominous lyrics. "There was always a dark element to our songs, some social commentary," Almond says.

That's true of "Cruelty Without Beauty," particularly in songs such as the single "Monoculture." But there's also a dose of cheekiness in songs such as "Desperate" ("Maybe as a child I wasn't given all the love I needed," Almond sings as Ball's keyboards wah-wah in sympathy) and "Whatever It Takes."

There are probably few songwriters who could write a couplet like "I tried meditation, crystal therapy/Colonic irrigation didn't agree with me" and set it to an electronic backbeat that dares you not to sing along.

"It's our most pop album since our first," says Almond.

'Just a singer and a keyboard player'

In the interim, Almond and Ball have found their old sound is someone else's new sound -- or should that be "nu" sound, since the genre is called "nu-electro," spearheaded by acts such as FischerSpooner, DJ Hell, and Felix da Housekat.

start quoteI tried meditation, crystal therapy/Colonic irrigation didn't agree with meend quote
-- line from Soft Cell's song 'Whatever It Takes'

When Soft Cell first formed, in 1979, combining a synth sound with a punk ethos was a novelty -- though one that quickly caught on.

Soft Cell arrived with several other bands lumped into the New Wave movement, including Human League, Gary Numan and Tubeway Army, and the Flying Lizards. Most of them were one-hit wonders in America, but those that followed -- including Eurythmics, Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys -- found much greater success.

"People are always reinventing music," says Almond. "We were an oddity when we formed, just a singer and a keyboard player." Succeeding artists have acknowledged their debt, he says; the Pet Shop Boys have said that, without Soft Cell, there would be no Pet Shop Boys.

Many of those acts were even more successful overseas, as was Almond. Up until the early '90s, he says, he was very busy. Then he encountered what he alludes to as "personal problems" and "went quiet for awhile." It wasn't until a few years ago that he got back on track.

Now he and Ball plan to tour and stake out a little space in the 2000s. Almond has mixed feelings about the state of the music industry nowadays -- indeed, he has mixed feelings about the state of the world in general ("Monoculture" is about "walking down High Street and seeing the same stores ... you have to work to be an individual"), but he doesn't mind taking advantage of the newest technology.

Ball's got hundreds of synthesizers and computers to play with in his studio, and Almond can tweak anything he wants. Including himself.

"We're into the old analog stuff, but we love the new technology as well," he says. "When I sing now, if I go off tune, I can tune myself up a little."

Story Tools

Top Stories
Review: 'Perfect Man' fatally flawed
Top Stories
CNN/Money: Security alert issued for 40 million credit cards
© 2004 Cable News Network LP, LLLP.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us.
external link
All external sites will open in a new browser. does not endorse external sites.