Soft Cell, Live

Barry Walters

By Barry Walters

on 04.22.11 in Reviews


Soft Cell

A seedy clash of opposites, early '80s synth-pop pioneers Soft Cell combine the rough trade with the smooth, the underground with unabashed pop, the era's cheap synths with yesteryear's camp cabaret. With electroclash acts like Fischerspooner reviving an interest in '80s sounds and aesthetics, it was inevitable that singer Marc Almond and keyboardist Dave Ball would reunite decades after the pressures of sudden popularity brought on by "Tainted Love" tore them apart in 1984 after only three albums and a smattering of singles and remixes.

Surprisingly timeless synthpop classics

Like the Pet Shop Boys, who soon eclipsed them in sales and longevity, Almond and Ball are old-fashioned craftsmen enamored of disco dramatics and soul-baring soliloquies full of sordid details straighter songsmiths would deny. As this generous live set recorded during their 2003 European tour documents, their classic tunes still resonate, while selections from their 2002 reunion album, Cruelty Without Beauty, picked up where the oldies left off.

Disc One presents lesser known songs from Soft Cell's vintage repertoire alongside sharp-as-(painted)-nails newer material. Even on a forgotten B-side ballad like "Barriers," the duo manifests an observational clarity and emotional intelligence that sets it apart from lesser new wave acts merely skimming the surface of life's follies.