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Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret  The definitive tale (98 tracks, 6 compact discs) of one fabulous album.

Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret

The definitive tale (98 tracks, 6 compact discs) of one fabulous album.

by Jay Lewis, Reviews Editor
first published: December, 2023

approximate reading time: minutes

Those characters...the desperate, the anxious and the addicted are way more interesting than the conformist or the conventional

SOFT CELL
Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret - 2023 Deluxe 6 CD Box Set
(Mercury Records)
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In an interview with The Guardian in 2017, Soft Cell's vocalist Marc Almond remarked that they hadn't been your run-of-the-mill pop stars: '...we were an experimental electro band, more in keeping with Suicide or Throbbing Gristle than the Top 40'.  The fact that this most unconventional act gained access to the charts via the beguiling cover of a Northern Soul number (cue Almond's emotionally hurt vocals juxtaposed with Dave Ball's cold electronic soundtrack.) is a testament to how, very occasionally, something artistic, brilliantly odd, and subversive could punctuate mainstream culture.

I'll admit that, when Soft Cell's debut album was originally released, I had absolutely no idea what an 'Erotic Cabaret' actually was, regardless of whether it was 'Non-Stop' or not. But I was lured in by the tale of disenchantment that was the single 'Bedsitter' and its beautiful but bitter follow-up 'Say Hello, Wave Goodbye'. The album would introduce us to the trapped, middle-aged desperation of 'Frustration', the anxiety of the unloved performer on 'Entertain Me' and, cue tabloid apoplexy, the debauchery of 'Sex Dwarf' and 'Seedy Films'.   Years later, it came as little surprise that as a solo artist, Almond would cover so many of Jacques Brel's songs. Both are/were theatrical artists realizing that the characters on the tattered fringes of society: the desperate, the anxious, and the addicted are way more interesting than the conformist or the conventional.



One of the reasons for the enduring appeal of 'Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret'  is that it was not tied to a moment in time, the band was never branded as being part of a particular movement and the songs were not escapist or flashy.  They were quite the opposite, according to Almond: “The album was the other side of the coin of Margaret Thatcher’s Britain: I never felt it was political at the time, but it seems it now. 'Non Stop Erotic Cabaret' was the secret seedy life that went on behind the mask of Conservative Britain.”

'Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret' may have been re-released, repackaged and enhanced with so many additional tracks before, but there is something definitive about this six (yes, six!), CD deluxe edition. The disc of Dave Ball's full-length versions and studio reworkings of the entire album is a perfect stand-alone alternative to the main album in itself. Although recently assembled, it is entirely in keeping with the era, when remixes were made up of existing materials and no unnecessary additives. Elsewhere, the dive into archival live, radio sessions, TV appearances, and demos makes for another fascinating alternative version, although some of these are more curiosities than unearthed treasures. More rewarding is the disc of all of the original 12 mixes, singles, and b-sides, although less appealing are newer remixes (a couple of which initially appeared on the 'Heat' collection in 2008), which feel incongruous in their surroundings.

Far more enticing is the instrumental version of the album which, (similar to those Steve Wilson mixes of other key albums of the era), shows another aspect of the recording that had (sorry Marc!), previously been obscured from view. This is not Karaoke Cabaret, it's far more revealing, with 'Youth' in particular feeling like part of an unnerving film score. Finally, I'm undecided as to whether I need another disc of recently recorded live versions. Certainly, it's wonderful to capture the euphoria of those shows but the 'Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret and Other Stories' album is a mere six months old. A minor gripe, not worth deducting critical stars over.

Dave Ball would later describe 'Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret' as the band's 'pop period' and that its follow-up ('The Art of Falling Apart', 1982) was 'much darker than that'. I tend to agree, although there was already a fair amount of that 'darkness' running through their debut. And yes, the band did soon fall apart as all the great bands without career plans tend to.  This album captured that brief and brilliant moment when everything for Soft Cell fell together. Enjoy all of its secret and seedy delights.



 

Jay Lewis
Reviews Editor

Jay Lewis is a Birmingham based poet. He's also a music, movie and arts obsessive. Jay's encyclopedic knowledge of 80s/90s Arts films is a debt to his embedded status in the Triangle Arts Centre trenches back then.


about Jay Lewis »»

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