Say Hello, Wave Goodbye: A Brief History of Soft Cell to Celebrate the Upcoming Farewell Concert
Today, Soft Cell, the 1980s pop act comprised of Marc Almond and Dave Ball, announced they were reuniting for a final show. They’ll play the O2 club in London on Sept. 30, 2018. Lead singer Almond said, “With Soft Cell I always felt something was unfinished. This last ever final show will be the best ever ending. It will be a real statement and send off, and thank you to every fan.”
In the United States, though, they’re mostly known for their cover of the Northern Soul staple “Tainted Love” (video below). However, considering the duo sold over 10 million records in their career, they’re much more than that, admittedly great, single.
So, in honor of their impending farewell concert, we decided to give Soft Cell the tribute they deserve, with a brief history of the openly gay act that made sleaze poppy, plus updates on what Marc Almond and Dave Ball are doing now.
Mutant Moments and the beginning of Soft Cell
Marc Almond and Dave Ball met at Leeds Polytechnic in 1977 and formed a band. Their debut EP, Mutant Moments, was self-produced for £2,000 (roughly $2,781), paid for with a loan from Ball’s mother. Though the EP didn’t have any hits on it, record labels like Mute and Some Bizzare saw promise in it.
Some Bizarre finally won the act, and their first singles, “A Man Could Get Lost” and “Memorabilia,” were produced by Daniel Miller, the founder of Mute Records and an electro-pop pioneer himself. (Miller wrote and performed “Warm Leatherette,” which would later go on to be covered by Grace Jones.)
Unfortunately, while “Memorabilia” ended up being a deeply influential song on the future electronica scene, at the time, the record failed to perform well. Soft Cell’s label decided to let them try one more time for a hit single, but if it went nowhere they’d be finished. Luckily, that single turned out to be “Tainted Love.”
Though it was a cover of an obscure song by Gloria Jones from 1965, Soft Cell’s version took off. It became a Number 1 hit in 17 different countries, though it only ever hit #8 on the U.S. charts. It even set a Guinness World Record for the longest stay on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100: 43 weeks.
Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret
Obviously, the label were excited, and what started as potentially Soft Cell’s final single quickly birthed their first LP, Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret. And that wasn’t an empty title. Soft Cell embraced the sleazy side of pop music — and not in a subtle way, either.
One of the best-loved songs from the album is “Sex Dwarf.” The original video (NSFW) was so raunchy — featuring a nude bound woman, a BDSM orgy and, of course, a literal sex dwarf — that it was banned before it could be released. A second, tamer video was released instead.
“Tainted Love” wasn’t the only hit from Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret. “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” was another massive hit in the United Kingdom, reaching #3 on the singles chart. This song also gives the upcoming farewell show its name.
The second album was the less creatively titled Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing. However, Soft Cell kept with their theme of accurately titled discs. Not only was it a remix album of some of their previous cuts, it was, by Marc Almond’s own admission, recorded while on the drug Ecstasy. The one new track, “What?” was also a hit, reaching #3 on the U.K. singles chart.
The Art of Falling Apart and This Last Night in Sodom
Unfortunately, the end was near for Soft Cell. Their third album was the, again, appropriately titled The Art of Falling Apart. Though the album itself reached the Top 5 in the U.K., none of the singles did very well. (However, Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails names the album as one of his favorites.)
Between The Art of Falling Apart‘s lack of success and Marc Almond’s increasing drug use, it wasn’t a shock when Soft Cell announced they were disbanding. A month later came This Last Night In Sodom, Soft Cell’s final album for 18 years.
That said, that album was much more in the vein of Marc Almond’s solo work — AllMusic describes it as “faux-decadent torch songs,” rather than the dance hits fans had come to expect from Soft Cell.
Cruelty Without Beauty: The Soft Cell Reunion
Thankfully, Soft Cell’s split was amicable. However, Marc Almond and Dave Ball wouldn’t work together for years. (Though Ball did work on some of Almond’s solo albums in the early ’90s.)
Nevertheless, in 2001, Soft Cell reunited for a mini-reunion tour. Their creative juices were flowing once again, and they recorded a new Soft Cell album in 2002.
Cruelty Without Beauty was a return to the dance pop that made Soft Cell famous, however updated for the times. And, quite honestly, it’s very good. The first single, “Monoculture” has a driving beat with Almond’s trademark vocals. Unfortunately, it only reached #52 on the U.K. singles chart. The follow-up, a cover of “The Night” by the Four Seasons did slightly better, reaching #39.
That was the final new work from Soft Cell, however. A collection of early demos called The Bedsit Tapes came out in 2005, and in 2007, a remix album, Heat followed. But the group hadn’t played until announcing their final show this September.
Marc Almond and Dave Ball without Soft Cell
Unlike many partnerships, both Marc Almond and Dave Ball saw success after Soft Cell split. In fact, Almond even saw success as a solo artist while Soft Cell were still together with his Marc and the Mambas side project.
With the Mambas, Almond explored his experimental side, working with artists like The The’s Matt Johnson as well as industrial music legend J.G. Thirlwell of Foetus.
Almond was also friends with the industrial band Coil, who covered “Tainted Love” for the first AIDS charity single. (Almond even appears in the video for Coil’s version.)
Though Almond never shied away from his interest in industrial and experimental music, his solo work has mostly been defined by his love of the cabaret. The AllMusic description of “faux-decadent torch songs” isn’t too far off, with frequently sparse arrangements showcasing his vocal delivery.
As for Dave Ball, he recorded a solo album in 1983 as well, entitled In Strict Tempo. He formed another duo, The Grid, with Richard Norris. The Grid had a number of hits in the U.K., like “Swamp Thing,” which hit (again) at #3 in the U.K. singles charts.
Dave Ball also went into production, remixing acts like the Pet Shop Boys and David Bowie. He also produced albums by Kylie Minogue, Deep Dish, the Virgin Prunes and his old friend, Marc Almond. His current band is Nitewreckage, formed in 2010.