Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret...And Other Stories Live - Live Album And Film
Soft Cell are responsible for one of the defining moments in pop history, one that opened the door to a raft of new two piece electronic pop acts (notably Eurythmics, Yazoo, Erasure, and specifically The Pet Shop Boys), but more importantly, with their Top Of The Pops appearance on 27 August 1981 they presented something every bit as subversive and dangerous as Bowie’s iconic performance of ‘Star Man’ almost a decade previously, and the screening of The Sex Pistols ‘Pretty Vacant’ video in 1977.
We are used to pop stars selling sex and glamour, but this was a different form of sex; seedy and dirty, not glitzy and wholesome. The way Marc Almond performed the song reeked of what most in Britain at that time would have called perversion, and yet here it was on prime time TV, inspiring a generation of goths to celebrate grubby glamour and jamming the BBC switchboard with complaints from laced up housewives. Their debut album, the brilliant ‘Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret’ hammered that point home with its tales of seedy Soho, lonely bedsit existences, and Sex Dwarves ‘luring Disco Dollies to a life of vice’. All wrapped in a sleeve portraying neon strip show signs with the band sporting dirty macs on the cover, and sold to teenagers on the cover of Smash Hits and through high street record shops. Subversive isn’t the word! The fact that every track is also a masterpiece of electronic angst made it one of the defining records of that decade
That was 40 years ago, and amongst all the madness of being a hit pop act, the band themselves probably didn’t realise its significance at the time, but looking back and listening to it with fresh ears, they (and us) can now appreciate the unrivalled strength of those songs and just how taboo breaking that album was. Plus it still sounds bloody great today! Which is why in 2021 they decided to celebrate the 40th anniversary of its release with a series of concerts to perform the album live in full.
Filmed in November 2021 at one of Soft Cell’s two sold out concerts at London’s Hammersmith Apollo, this film and album collection also includes chart hits and selected other tracks from their career, plus a few songs taken from the current album ‘Happiness Not Included’ thrown in for good measure. At two and a half hours it’s a bit of a marathon, so you are more likely to dip in after the first viewing and the album will probably have more longevity than the film I’d say (I found myself listening as much as watching even the first time round). 40 years on, Marc’s voice is still amazingly strong and is further supplemented by a bevvy of backing singers. Wearing shades for the majority of the show, he resembles an electro pop Roy Orbison. Dave Ball spends the concert seated behind a bank of synths, driving the entire show with audience interaction limited to him waving rather sweetly to the crowd at the close of the concert. Neither miss a note though. The sheer quality of the songs and lyrics really shine through and considering Marc Almond is now 65 he puts in an amazingly energetic, super confident and impassioned performance for the full two and a half hours with hardly time to draw breath between tracks. That’s actually incredible and would put most 20 year olds to shame.
The set is split into two ‘Acts’, the first covering all the hits and tracks from the other albums, and the second Act being ‘Non Stop Erotic Cabaret’ performed in full, with an impressive and co-ordinated video show firing up behind them for both Acts, then closing with ‘Purple’ off the latest album and their original breakout club hit in the USA, ‘Memorabilia’. There are numerous highlights; ‘Monoculture’, a storming 'Martin', ‘Bedsit Land’, 'Chips On My Shoulder' ‘Tainted Love’, an energetic 'Entertain Me', and my personal favourite, ‘Sex Dwarf’, but I can honestly say that there isn’t a duff track on here. It’s the next best thing to having been there (which, sadly, I wasn't, tickets having sold out in the blink of an eye).
To state that Soft Cell are legends is obvious. To say that this is an outstanding performance is a simple statement of fact. Watching and listening to this made me realise just what a one off they are and why everyone looks back on that period in the 80s as a golden age of musical innovation. Soft Cell were responsible for much of that gold plating and demonstrate a lyrical and musical inventiveness that is rare indeed. This live album and film should be an essential addition to anyone’s collection. Long may they continue.
Main image by David Pearce
'Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret...And Other Stories Live' is out 12th May on LiveHereNow