Soft CellSoft Cell are an English synthpop duo who came to prominence in the early 1980s. The duo consisted of vocalist Marc Almond and instrumentalist David Ball. The band are primarily known for their 1981 hit version of "Tainted Love" and their platinum-selling debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret.
In the United Kingdom, Soft Cell had twelve top 40 hits, including "Tainted Love" (#1), "Torch" (#2), "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye", "What" (both #3), and "Bedsitter" (#4). They also had four top 20 albums between 1981 and 1984. In 1984, the duo split; however, they reformed in 2001 to tour and release a new album and held a final reunion concert in London in 2018.
Soft Cell's songs have been covered by various artists, including David Gray, Marilyn Manson, Coil and Nine Inch Nails. Their track "Memorabilia" earned recognition for the band as pioneers of the synth-oriented techno genre. The duo have sold ten million records world-wide.
Mutant Moments and "Memorabilia"
Soft Cell was initiated during 1977 after Almond and Ball met at Leeds Polytechnic. Their initial efforts at recording resulted that year in an EP titled Mutant Moments which was funded by a loan of £2,000 from Dave Ball's mother and made with a simple 2-track recorder.
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 Bizzare label, backed by Phonogram Records. Their first single, "A Man Could Get Lost" b/w "Memorabilia" on 7" and "Memorabilia" b/w "Persuasion" on 12", was produced by Daniel Miller who founded Mute Records. While "Memorabilia" was a success in nightclubs, Soft Cell would remain essentially unknown until their next release.
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 cover version of "Tainted Love", an obscure 1965 northern soul track originally released by Gloria Jones (the girlfriend of Marc Bolan at the time of his death) 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 US Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song's popularity developed slowly, needing 19 weeks to enter the US 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, in 1964).
Non-Stop Erotic CabaretThe duo's first album, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret, hit UK No. 5 and further explored the now-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 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 a scandal involved with the "Sex Dwarf" clip. The original version of the music video was confiscated by police and censored before it was even released.
Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret garnered two additional hits: "Bedsitter" dealt with the loneliness and lifestyle of a young man having recently left home to live in a bedsit while partying hard. "Bedsitter" reached No. 4 in the UK Singles Chart in November 1981. The song was highly acclaimed in a retrospective review by AllMusic journalist Ned Raggett who wrote that it "ranks as one of the best, most realistic portrayals of urban life recorded." The final single on the album, the ballad "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye", peaked at No. 3 in February 1982 and was subsequently covered by David Gray nearly 20 years later when his version reached No. 26 in the UK.
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). Soon after "Say Hello Wave Goodbye" dropped out of the chart, Soft Cell released a brand new song: "Torch", a love song which was to prove the closest the band ever got to having a No. 1 hit with one of their own songs. The song entered straight into the Top 20 and peaked at No. 2.
The duo released their second album entitled Non Stop Ecstatic Dancing, a 6-track mini album containing remixes of older material along with their new hit single, "What!". This was a cover of the 1965 song by Melinda Marx. It was later covered in 1968 by Judy Street, whose version became extremely popular on the Northern Soul scene. Almond later admitted that the album was recorded and mixed under the influence of ecstasy. "What!" placed at No. 101 in the US Charts, but was a major hit in the UK and reached No. 3 on the UK Singles Chart in August of that year.
Decline and dissolutionBy 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 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 first single "Where The Heart Is" only reached 21, while the double A-side "Numbers"/"Barriers" peaked at 25. "Numbers" also generated controversy due to references in the song to the drug speed.
In September 1983, the duo released a new single "Soul Inside", which returned them to the UK Top 20, but by early 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 No. 12) in March. Headed by the duo's final single "Down in the Subway" (UK No. 24), the album departed from its predecessors by featuring more live drums and guitars than previous albums.
ReunionsAlmond 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. 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 US tour during early 2003. The second single from the album, a cover of The Four Seasons "The Night", reached No. 39 in the UK. Soft Cell had considered recording "The Night" in place of "Tainted Love" during 1981, though keyboardist David Ball stated in a 2003 interview with the BBC, "I think history has kind of shown that we did make the right choice [in 1981]."
In November 2008, the band released a remix album entitled Heat. The album included Soft Cell tracks remixed by such acts as Paul Dakeyne, The Grid, Manhattan Clique, Cicada, Richard X, Ladytron, MHC, Atomizer, Mark Moore, Spektrum, The Dark Poets and many more.
In February 2018, Soft Cell announced that they would reunite for one last reunion concert. On 21 August 2018, Almond revealed on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2 that Soft Cell were releasing two new tracks ahead of the concert: "Northern Lights" and "Guilty (Cos I Say You Are)". Entitled "Say Hello, Wave Goodbye", the reunion concert took place at the O2 Arena in London on 30 September 2018.
In 2019 Ball stated that a new Soft Cell album is currently in the works. In May 2019, a new book 'To Show You, I've Been There' was released, which came with a vinyl copy of the Magick Mutants EP, a sequel to their debut Mutant Moments EP. For June 2020, the Mutant Moments EP is to have its first official release. Originally to be part of the UK June Record Store Day 2020, the 10 inch EP is now to be sold directly through the band's website, as the event was cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.