This album, my god, this album. English synth-pop duo Soft Cell sealed their reputation as one of the most original acts of the early 80s, thanks to brilliant debut Non -Stop Erotic Cabaret, with massive hits Bedsitter, Say Hello,Wave Goodbye and their unstoppable cover of the Gloria Jones Northern Soul stomper Tainted Love, but the follow-up can’t be beaten either.
The Art Of Falling Apart is a seriously sour and druggy record. Marc Almond and Dave Ball had gone to America, and fallen in love with the nightlife there, but things were starting to fray at the edges. Success can often be a poisoned chalice for young bands, and so it was for them both. Almond spoke of experiencing mental health problems, Ball confessed to taking angel dust, and the once seductive promise of international fame wasn’t so attractive in real life.
So, the sleazy cheekiness in tracks like Sex Dwarf from the debut turned into something darker on Baby Doll, a song about a stripper that Almond doesn’t so much sing as spit out venomously. Bedsitter, which dealt with the emptiness of clubbing, found a bitter companion in Numbers, which took on promiscuity with a special new kind of contempt.
Domestic bliss was blitzed too. Kitchen Sink Drama, with a pretty melody almost akin to the sweetness of Minnie Ripperton’s Loving You, focussed on a housewife and her daytime over-the-counter drug addiction. Things fared little better with a dysfunctional family in Where The Heart Is- again, a sweet, simple tune with heartbreaking lyrics concerning immature parents and the effects of their toxicity on children. Almond has often intimated that his upbringing was less than comfortable.
Then, the title track is pretty self-explanatory. It’s pop, with all of the fizz taken out.
All of this should be depressing, but it’s thrilling. Mike Thorne’s co-production is sparkling and Almond’s lyrics are scalpel- sharp.
As the band are currently touring with a greatest hits set, catch them if you can. I recently reviewed them for The Wee Review, and these songs, along with the debut, sound as fresh and pertinent as they ever did. These are timeless songs for troubled times, very much needed.