As the explosive twosome joined forces some eighteen months ago to create a cinematic gem of their own, here comes the debut long player ‘Broken Hearted City’.
The album has been engineered by Ando Wright at Parr Street studios in Liverpool, with the writing, vocals and production shared equally between Hogan and Forbes. The resultant eight track LP is short and sweet, except it’s not sweet at all.
The opening ‘Scream Machine’ bursts out with entangled guitar, gritty synth, gentle piano and pretty much everything else in between, floating away with shreds of sound, to enter the much more subdued ‘Lonesome’.
The guitar is still the guiding light for the voices of Forbes’ and Hogan’s, creating an atmosphere of a Wild West ballad a la John Fryer’s BLACK NEEDLE NOISE creations. As they walk together into the sunset, ‘Will You Be Mine’ takes over with the grizzly musical elements intertwined with futuristic beats and sprinkles of bossa nova for an electric ballad all sealed with a cinematic stamp.
Hogan takes the vocal reigns on ‘Head Sounds’; a mid-tempo puzzler with background distorted vocals and simple melody.
‘Planet Sweet’ presents an easy listening duet, showcasing the intricacies of Forbes’ vocal, and a radio friendly, uncomplicated structure. It’s like a more grown up version of THE BEAUTIFUL SOUTH. Meanwhile, the title track changes the feel instantly with delicate piano, laced with high pitched guitar, both achieving a near Lynchian effect.
Hogan takes the singing reigns on ‘Paris Vortex’, with its luminous grace and magical soundscapes, while the SIMPLE MINDS legacy shines through on the closing titles with ‘Universe Of Love’. This super chilled track has the power to relax and fulfil dream-like fantasies all at the same time. Its floaty textures ebb away with a single line “where do you go?” before it dissipates to nothingness.
It’s not surprising that ZANTi provides a plethora of musical knowhow, what with the pioneering legends’ involvement from Hogan and Forbes.
‘Broken Hearted City’ is grown-up music for grown-up listeners, presented in a modestly served parcel that comes packed with some seriously good material. It is indeed an outstanding song collection, superb!
After many years of trials and tribulations, Rusty Egan finally presents ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’.
It’s a collection of thirteen songs that explore a varied range of topics, from the euphoria of clubland to the celebration of musical heroes to personal bereavement.
This could have formed the basis of the fourth VISAGE album had Egan not been constructively ousted by the then-puppet masters of the late Steve Strange during its recording; sensing a quick buck on the back of ULTRAVOX’s ‘Brilliant’ but failing to understand anything about the music that made The Blitz Club collective a much loved act of the Synth Britannia-era, the end result was the very disappointing ‘Hearts & Knives’.
Indeed, several of the songs included on ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ started off as recordings for the rebooted VISAGE. Chris Payne who co-wrote ‘Fade To Grey’ had submitted several compositions, but these great songs remained on the cutting room floor… until now. Also key to this album being fully realised is Nick Bitzenis, best known as NIKONN and one half of FOTONOVELA, the production duo behind MARSHEAUX.
Contributing the album’s opening salvo is Peter Hook with ‘The Otherside’; comparisons with Hooky’s previous band are perhaps inevitable and the song’s melodic basslines again show how much his sound was a vital part of NEW ORDER.
Hooky’s vocals are delivered passionately, but exude a vulnerability that will be loved by some and disliked by others.
Another artist firmly associated with his band is Tony Hadley; but the sublime ‘Lonely Highway’ sounds nothing like SPANDAU BALLET. A prime example of classic synthpop, it begs the question as to how the Islington quintet might have developed had they not been soul boys? The first of five Chris Payne co-writes, Tony Hadley’s booming vocals are perfect for this catchy little tune.
The superb ‘Hero’ featuring the voice of Andy Huntley sees Egan exploiting a dancier groove, but is just a great song featuring the sort of memorable melodies and counter-melodies that are absent from much of today’s music.
Erik Stein from post-punk balladeers CULT WITH NO NAME adds his voice to two numbers with the first ‘Love Is Coming My Way’ being a superb slice of machine pop.
Meanwhile, the second Stein voiced number ‘Ballet Dancer’ is a vocodered eulogy to Egan’s late ex-wife, laced with the most beautiful Polymoog Vox Humana synth lines from Chris Payne.
The air is taken down further with ‘Be The Man’ featuring the voice of Kira Porter; this serene orchestrated ballad with its spacey synth solo could easily have come from Midge Ure’s most recent long player ‘Fragile’.
The pace ups considerably and heads towards clubland with the ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ title track. Dynamically uplifting, it comes over like GIORGIO MORODER meets DAFT PUNK via THE HUMAN LEAGUE with the track’s root being an interpolation of TENEK’s single ‘Blinded By You’ from their 2010 album ‘On The Wire’.
With a new topline was co-written by Egan with Gerard O’ Connell, The Blitz Club’s legendary DJ said: “’Dancefloor’ is an example of how I have always worked. TENEK had an amazing bassline with synth stabs that grabbed me, but what I could hear was an electro style uplifting track and I wrote this on the roof of the villa in Ibiza … I just looked and thought ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor of THE WORLD’”
The slightly more rock flavoured ‘Evermore’ featuring NIGHT CLUB’s Emily Kavanaugh is another co-write with Chris Payne and features former ULTRAVOX guitarist Robin Simon. The end result comes over feisty and frisky.
The following ‘Dreamer’ is a track originally written and recorded by Arno Carstens. Appropriated by VISAGE for ‘Hearts & Knives’, the song was initially discovered by Egan while listening Carstens’ set at the Isle Of Wight Festival. But this improved reworking makes a misjudgement in keeping Carstens’ voice; grouchy singer/songwriters do not go well with synthpop! However, a newly composed bridge features Andy Huntley and based on this evidence, he really should have sung the whole song.
Chris Payne reunites with Midge Ure for ‘Glorious’ in a revisiting of the New European ethos that produced ‘Fade To Grey’. Attached to a triplet percussive mantra and Ure’s distinctive fret work, this is a seasoned anthem with gigantic choral pads and an honest vocal from the ULTRAVOX front man. To continue the mood, Anni Hogan contributes ‘Love Can Conquer All’ which includes a marvellously soulful vocal from Nicole Clarke and a cameo from Egan impersonating Dieter Meier from YELLO.
On the squelch fest of ‘Wonderwerke’, Egan reclaims some of his lost history. “I have re-recorded this fantastic electronica I first made in Germany on my trip to Zurich to meet YELLO. In 1982 I first discovered a sampler in the studios of Wonderwerke and away I went.” he said of the track that was appropriated by TIME ZONE as ‘The Wildstyle’, “Now without the samples or the Afrika Bambaataa rap, it’s a fantastic electro beat”. Featuring Egan’s voicing in robotic Deutsch with reprogrammed drums and electronics, the track serves a similar role to ‘Falling Down’ on JEAN-MICHEL JARRE’s ‘Electronica2’.
The wonderful closer ‘Thank You’ uses some ‘Endless Endless’ vocodered stylings and does what it says on the tin. Over layers of sweeping ambience à la MOBY and a gentle metronomic pulse, it is Egan’s list of musical heroes and associated beneficiaries in no particular order. Egan’s tone poem is a touching acknowledgement of that marvellous electronic music history. A simple yet highly effective idea, the beauty is in its realisation. Appropriately, it ends with a poignant “VISAGE… thank you”.
As JEAN-MICHEL JARRE put it recently “Electronic music has a family, a legacy and a future…” and for anyone to think that new electronic acts pop-up out of nowhere without any link to the past is naïve and ignorant.
There are some outstanding songs on ‘Welcome To The Dance Floor’. But despite the title, this is NOT a dance record. To all intents and purposes, it is a SYNTHPOP album! Unfortunately the general public will not listen to electronic stuff unless it is labelled dance, so Egan probably feels this is the only way to sell his product. This is the situation that the club-focussed mainstream music media has sadly created.
But fans of classic synthpop need not worry. Even the album’s club courting title track has its core root in synthpop, thus proving how much the genre is owed by the sniffy dance obsessed electronic music press…
Rusty Egan has successfully united a range of talents to produce a highly enjoyable collection of work, like one of your favourite electronic music compilations, but curated with new(ish) songs. And in the veteran DJ / guest vocalist album stakes, ‘Welcome To The Dancefloor’ certainly beats GIORGIO MORODER’s 2015 effort ‘Déjà Vu’ hands down.
Yes, despite 38 years since The Blitz Club, synthpop still rules!
Electronic producer SCANNER (aka ROBIN RIMBAUD) and pianist / arranger ANNI HOGAN are individually known for their experimental works sampling radio / mobile phone transmissions and being a part of MARC & THE MAMBAS respectively.
Unsettling the listener can often be a no-brainer, anything too far musically or sonically removed from the standard song format can feel alien and unnerving.
While the low frequency, extended drones of doom rockers SUNN O))) and the noise / frequency experiments of PAN SONIC are calculated to challenge, the opening track on ‘Scanni’ feels disturbing but in a FAR more subversive way. ‘A Life Well Lived’ feels like a mash-up of two different songs in two different keys, yet playfully welded together to test the listener, creating a tension which is not entirely pleasurable. Initially the song is the musical equivalent having nails dragged down a blackboard, but after repeated listens the track eventually sinks in and makes sense in a twisted way.
Thankfully the rest of the album follows a more musical path and the use of different vocalists (including KRAFTWERK legend WOLFGANG FLÜR) gives ‘Scanni’ an organic / electro-acoustic MASSIVE ATTACK feel. ‘Future’ has a house vibe to it, with a hypnotic drum machine and live bass groove with piano / horns overlaid with soulful vocals provided by JENNIFER JOHN.
‘Mine Was Full of Tears’ with its moody piano initially recalls THOMAS DOLBY’s cover of ‘I Scare Myself’, whilst ‘Carelessly’ featuring ex-SWANS vocalist Jarboe evokes the latter work of TALK TALK, all suggested space and atmospherics.
By track number five ‘Glorious’, the musical manifesto of ‘Scanni’ is well and truly laid bare… this is a late-night listening album, and it is one for quiet retrospection. The use of electronics is sparing throughout, a few well-chosen loops and textures here and there…
‘Cinecittà (Feel Everything)’ (again featuring Jarboe) is a sensual percussion free piece, with ethereal VANGELIS style synthetics.
The track ‘Golden Light’ featuring the spoken words of WOLFGANG FLÜR feels far more at home here than it did on the former Kling Klang resident’s recent compilation and only the toe-curling lyrics of final track ‘With You in My Life’ feel out of place (sample lyric “babies don’t cry anymore with you in my life”) in the context of the overall work.
This is a brave and beautifully produced album that despite its opening curveball, does something that many works fail to achieve these days… it sucks you in and transports you to another time and space entirely.
Whether the album will be high profile enough to gain a nod in this year’s Mercury Music Prize awards is debatable, but regardless, ‘Scanni’ deserves recognition as a triumph of creative / artistic freedom over the desire for commercial success and will undoubtedly become a firm favourite with followers of both artists.
‘Scanni’ is released by Cherry Red Records on 26th February 2016 as a CD and download
Although electronic pop only forms a part of MARC ALMOND’s repertoire, he is forever associated with SOFT CELL’s recording of ‘Tainted Love’, possibly the first true crossover record from the Synth Britannia era.
A fan of T-REX and DAVID BOWIE, Southport-born Almond started attending Leeds Polytechnic in 1979 to study Fine Art. One fellow student there in the year above was Frank Tovey, soon to become FAD GADGET. Specialising in performance art, Almond met Dave Ball, a seasoned clubber who explored his artistic musings through the new medium of affordable synthesizers from Japan. Together, they formed SOFT CELL.
Their first product was the self-released ‘Mutant Moments’ EP in 1980. It came to the attention of DJ Stevo Pearce, who had been compiling futurist charts for the music papers Record Mirror and Sounds, which covered the new wave of home grown electronic music that had emerged after the success of GARY NUMAN.
Stevo gathered a number of these acts for the independently produced ‘Some Bizzare Album’ compilation in 1981. SOFT CELL appeared alongside young hopefuls such as DEPECHE MODE, BLANCMANGE, B-MOVIE and THE THE. With DEPECHE MODE opting for Mute and BLANCMANGE eventually heading for London, Stevo signed B-MOVIE, THE THE and SOFT CELL to his Some Bizzare label and began courting the major record companies for a licencing arrangement.
Phonogram had been particularly desperate to sign B-MOVIE in order to compete and SPANDAU BALLET and DURAN DURAN. Legend has it that Stevo sent his demands to their A&R chief Roger Ames on a cassette carried by a teddy bear dressed as Robin Hood; it stipulated that SOFT CELL had to be part of the deal!
Produced by Daniel Miller, SOFT CELL’s first recording for Phonogram was ‘Memorabilia’. While not a hit, it was critically acclaimed and become a cult club favourite. However, the encore of their live set was the one to capture the public’s imagination. A cover of ‘Tainted Love’, it reached No1 in the UK, Germany, Australia and Canada while also eventually entering the US Top 10.
Written by Ed Cobb, ‘Tainted Love’ was originally recorded by Gloria Jones and became a Wigan Casino favourite on the Northern Soul scene. As a fan of that scene, David Ball knew the song and took it into haunting electronic torch territory.
Segued with a Motown cover ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’ on the extended version, it was to become one of Sire Records’ biggest selling 12 inch singles in America. But it was to be a double edged sword as the coupling of two covers made SOFT CELL minimal money, despite the record selling millions.
The follow-up ‘Bedsitter’ proved SOFT CELL could have a hit single with their own material. Amusingly after the release of the ‘Some Bizarre Album’, a disgruntled rival musician had poked fun at Almond and told him: “You couldn’t make a decent dance record if you tried”. However, the disgruntled rival musician faded into obscurity and gig no-shows with his deluded combo, while ‘Bedsitter’ made it three decent dance records in a row for SOFT CELL following the club popularity of both ‘Memorabilia’ and ‘Tainted Love’. Thus began a run of hit singles that ensured Almond and Ball would be Top 40 chart fixtures for the next three years.
Almond though was looking at a life outside of SOFT CELL, having already been involved in THE IMMACULATE CONSUMPTIVE with Jim Foetus, Lydia Lunch and Nick Cave. So he formed MARC & THE MAMBAS, a loose collective that at various times included Matt Johnson, Anni Hogan, Martin McCarrick, Billy McGee, Audrey Riley, Anne Stephenson, Lee Jenkinson and Dave Ball’s wife Gini.
It set the tone for the artist that he would eventually become. Almond was certainly channelling his venom with aplomb, especially on delightful ditties like ‘Catch A Fallen Star’. However, it was an indication that Almond’s drug fuelled paranoia was getting to him… he later threatened a Record Mirror journalist Jim Reid while brandishing a whip, for the scribe’s slating of his Mambas opus and temporarily retired!
The pressure and criticism that came from the success of SOFT CELL was proving too much for Almond, as he went into a well-documented public meltdown. The duo turned into SUICIDE and strove to drive away what was left of their pop oriented audience. Those that remained would become The Gutter Hearts, Almond’s fan club who Boy George had generally described as “people who wear black and hate their parents”. The duo disbanded in Spring 1984 just as the third album ‘This Last Night in Sodom’ hit the shelves.
Almond’s first solo album ‘Vermin in Ermine’ released in late 1984 and embraced a classic European cabaret style with almost exclusively traditional instrumentation, often with dynamic orchestral arrangements.
There was a one-off collaboration with BRONSKI BEAT in 1985 but continuing in the orchestrated vein, Almond unexpectedly hit No1 again in 1989 with ‘Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart’, a spirited cover with the late Gene Pitney. But despite the recognition as an artist in his own right, the spectre of SOFT CELL continued to haunt Almond.
“Synthesizers and the bands or artists that used them weren’t taken seriously at first especially by so-called serious music critics. They were ridiculed…” he remembered in a recent interview with Advocate. But with the success of Acid House and the rave scene, electronic music was now being re-evaluated.
So in 1991, Almond re-voiced a number of SOFT CELL’s best loved numbers for the ‘Memorabilia – The Singles’ collection. He also began collaborating again with Dave Ball, who was now having success with his new musical partner Richard Norris in the dance oriented combo THE GRID. The results ended up on 1991’s ‘Tenement Symphony’, possibly the most mainstream recording of Almond’s career.
The follow-up ‘Fantastic Star’ should have been the record to consolidate Almond’s position as a pop artiste. But instead, it got lost in record company politics; while Almond remains dissatisfied with the overall album, it did lead to him working with guitarist Neal X of SIGUE SIGUE SPUTNIK fame, who today continues to be his right hand man.
Looking back, SOFT CELL were probably ahead of their time. Between 1981 and 1982, they were actually a much stronger proposition than the fledgling DEPECHE MODE. Ultimately, the duo set the blueprint as the proto-PET SHOP BOYS. And although far grittier both musically and lyrically, they also smoothed the path for acts like ERASURE. Almond once said that for an artist to be “truly subversive”, they had to have “access to the mainstream” and subvert he did. So when Almond and Ball came back in 2001 for a full SOFT CELL reunion, there was a welcome acknowledgement of their ground breaking legacy.
In 1993, Almond toured Russia at the invitation of the British Consul and began of his love affair with the nation’s folk songs which continues to this day. But in October 2004, Almond was seriously injured in a motorbike accident near St Paul’s Cathedral, London.
He began a slow recovery but remained determined to get back on stage and into the studio. 2007 saw Almond return with ‘Stardom Road’, a covers album including songs made famous by Dusty, Sinatra and Bowie. The concept had largely been prompted by him being unable to write new material since his accident.
But in 2010, Almond released ‘Varieté’ his first studio album of self-written material since 2001. It was a move towards more vintage theatrics and paved the way for his future projects like ‘Pop’pea’ and ‘Ten Plagues – A Song Cycle’. Immersing himself in a variety of work since then, Almond recently re-entered the pop sphere with ‘The Velvet Trail’. Meanwhile his current crowd-funded venture is an interpretation of Joris-Karl Huysman’s ‘À Rebours’, scored by Othon with lyrics by poet Jeremy Reed and set for release later this year.
So with such a vast and diverse career, what would a Beginner’s Guide to MARC ALMOND look like? Primarily focussing on his electronic, or at least, technologically assisted work and with a restriction of one song per album or project, here are The Electricity Club’s twenty choices…
SOFT CELL The Girl With The Patent Leather Face (1981)
With Almond credited with “vocals/ effects / energetics”, ‘The Girl With The Patent Leather Face’ was one of the stand-outs from the ‘Some Bizzare Album’ showcase. Creepy and unsettling, Almond told the JG Ballard inspired story of a ”two-faced baby” who “tampers with machinery so other beauties crash their cars”. Ball’s gloriously out of tune Korg synths were a fine example of how electronics were maintaining Punk’s ethics of do-it-yourself minimalism.
SOFT CELL’s fine debut album was recorded and mixed in the more liberal setting of New York. It captured the edginess of minimal synth arrangements while married to an actual tune. With a magnificent arrangement by Ball that allowed Almond to indulge in his Scott Walker aspirations, ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ is possibly SOFT CELL’s crowning achievement. Certainly, the line “We’re strangers meeting for the first time, OK?” has become one of the most memorable of the era…
Punctuated by John Gatchell’s flugelhorn, ‘Torch’ came in the middle of SOFT CELL’s imperial pop phase and the eight minute version was a piece de resistance. By now, Almond and Ball had got heavily into MDMA while partying on the New York club scene. They were introduced to the drug by the singing dealer Cindy Ecstasy, who soon featured on several SOFT CELL recordings! In an amusing spoken middle section, her nonchalant off-key vocal counterpointed Almond’s fabulously forlorn romanticism.
The MARC & THE MAMBAS project had begun with a limited edition mail order only 12 inch release featuring ‘Sleaze’ and ‘Fun City’. With a revolving door cast of collaborators away from a traditional band format, it was rare that all the members of the collective would perform on the same recording. ‘Untitled’ was a co-write with THE THE’s Matt Johnson that had distinct European overtones. With its Roland TR808 backbone and melodic chorus, ‘Untitled’ could have easily been mistaken for a SOFT CELL song.
Available on the MARC & THE MAMBAS album ‘Untitled’ via Phonogram Records
SOFT CELL Forever The Same (1983)
John Gatchell returned, this time with his trumpet on ‘Forever The Same’ from the appropriately titled difficult second album ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’. However, Phonogram’s proposal for it to be a single release was vetoed for the less immediate ‘Numbers’. Not becoming the hit the label was hoping for, in a bid to hype it up the charts, the 12 inch was twinned with a free copy of ‘Tainted Love’. Dismayed, this incident set off an already edgy Almond and Stevo to trash the record company’s offices in a destructive rage!
Co-written with SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES’ Steve Severin, the precise digital drum machine and eerie organ stabs of ‘Torment’ were offset by the gorgeous Bohemian string arrangements and the chromatic allure of Almond’s dramatic refrains. Co-produced by a young Flood, ‘Torment & Toreros’ had been an adventurous double album indulgence, but the tracklisting could have easily been streamlined into a more cohesive single long player.
If ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’ was SOFT CELL’s difficult second long player, ‘This Last Night In Sodom’ was an even more challenging proposition; the duo’s final hit in their first phase was this thundering percussive cover of ‘Down In The Subway’, an obscure Northern Soul song by Jack Hammer was, undoubtedly a metaphor for Almond’s mental breakdown.
Adopting a back-to-basics approach as a reaction to SOFT CELL, Almond produced many fine songs in his trilogy of albums with THE WILLING SINGERS comprising of musicians who had been involved in ‘Torment & Toreros’. Free of the mechanical limitations of SOFT CELL, he was more melodramatic than ever before. Produced by Mike Hedges who worked with ASSOCIATES and SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, ‘Tenderness Is A Weakness’ was a remarkably passionate song, regardless of genre.
While Almond was continuing on his path of orchestrated European cabaret torch songs, an electronic element was starting to creep back in, particularly in the club remixes of ‘Tears Run Rings’ and ‘Bittersweet’. A pulsating electronic bassline formed the backbone of the emotive ‘These My Dreams Are Yours’, a song which owed its existence to ‘No Regrets’, made famous by Scott Walker in 1976. Featuring the vocals of Victoria Wilson-James, this string laden drama showed Almond was opening up to technology again.
Produced by Bob Kraushaar who had worked with PROPAGANDA, ACT and PET SHOP BOYS, the success of the ‘The Stars We Are’ meant its follow-up ‘Enchanted’ was allowed a bigger recording budget by EMI. The ethos behind pop production in this CD age was “bigger is better” and the epic album opener ‘Madame De La Luna’ was a fine example of the marvellous fusion between the Fairlight CMI programmed by co-producer Gary Maughan and the cinematic orchestrations of Billy McGee.
Available on the MARC ALMOND album ‘Enchanted’ via EMI Records
MARC ALMOND Meet Me In My Dream (1991)
While ‘Tenement Symphony’ is best remembered for the mighty Trevor Horn produced covers ‘Jacky’ and ‘The Days Of Pearly Spencer’, it also hosted a writing reunion with Dave Ball. The magnificent ‘My Hand Over My Heart’ was given an epic reworking by Mr Horn and closed the collection. But starting the album was the more minimal, but no less emotive ‘Meet Me In My Dream’. A classic SOFT CELL song in all but name, it was a reminder of the undeniable magic that Ball and Almond together possessed.
The original ‘Fantastic Star’ album sessions had seen Almond reunited with Mike Thorne who had produced SOFT CELL’s first two albums. But at Mercury Records behest, numerous other studio personnel were brought in. It also led to managerial strife which eventually ended his relationship with Stevo. Produced by Martyn Ware, who was fresh from steering ERASURE’s ‘I Say I Say I Say’ album, ‘Brilliant Creatures’ reflected the uptempo club friendly electronic pop of the times.
MARC ALMOND & SIOUXSIE SIOUX Threat Of Love (1999)
Under new manager Vicki Wickham who had looked after Dusty Springfield, Almond signed to Echo Records in 1998, but almost straight away, record company politics intervened. The eventual album ‘Open All Night’ was issued on Almond’s own Blue Star label and a more downbeat electronic based excursion than he had previously attempted. A feisty trip-hop electro fusion with the Queen of Goth, ‘Threat Of Love’ was orchestrated with an amorous, but sinister Middle Eastern tone.
SYSTEM F featuring MARC ALMOND Soul On Soul (2001)
Ferry Corsten had a huge international hit in 1999 with ‘Out Of The Blue’ under his SYSTEM F moniker. It highlighted the spiritual connection between synthpop and trance. So substantiating the link further, the Rotterdam based producer recruited Almond to guest on the blinding ‘Soul On Soul’. It was a spirited, club friendly workout, with Almond giving an exuberant performance over the frantic dance beats and swirling arpeggios.
Despite the parallel SOFT CELL reunion, Almond recorded another solo album ‘Stranger Things’. ‘Glorious’ was an appropriately titled electronic torch ballad that combined his unique vocal histrionics with a big sound production that had not been heard since his work with Trevor Horn for ‘Tenement Symphony’. Icelandic producer Jóhann Jóhannsson did a fine job with the song’s widescreen dynamics, adding some vintage ARP Odyssey textures along the way as well.
Available on the album ‘Stranger Things’ via Strike Force Entertainment / Cherry Red Records
SOFT CELL Desperate (2002)
Almond and Ball’s comeback album ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ saw a return to the kitchen sink dramas that the pair were famous for. The launch single ‘Monoculture’ was an attack on modern society’s acceptance of the bland. And with ‘Desperate’, reality talent shows were where Almond chose to vent his spleen. Narrating the thoughts of a young hopeful seeking fame and fortune at whatever cost, with its Bond Theme styled brass inflections, ‘Desperate’ was a great example of the satirical social commentary.
T-TOTAL featuring MARC ALMOND Baby’s On Fire (2005)
A danced up cover of Brian Eno’s cult favourite from ‘Here Come The Warm Jets’, Almond always saw himself as a fan of the ROXY MUSIC synth dandy, rather than the more suave singer Bryan Ferry. He relished the opportunity to cover one of his favourite songs and saw the collaborative adventure as a good way to ease himself back into the recording process after his accident in 2004. This reworking still retains much of the mad swirling spirit of the original, while updating the song for a new audience.
Available on the T-TOTAL featuring MARC ALMOND single ‘Baby’s On Fire’ via Pure Mint
STARCLUSTER featuring MARC ALMOND Smoke & Mirrors (2008)
Following his ‘Stardom Road’ covers project, Almond continued with his one-off collaborations. Maintaining his varied portfolio and willingness to try different styles, ‘Smoke & Mirrors’ was a Hi-NRG octave shifting dance anthem in the vein of Giorgio Moroder. Produced under the auspices of Anglo-German duo Roland Faber and Kai Ludeling, there was even a sweeping VANGELIS rooted synth solo thrown in for good measure towards the conclusion.
With a buzzing cacophony of synths, ‘Worship Me Now’ was Almond’s most overtly electronic work in quite a while. Written by PULP’s Jarvis Cocker, it saw Almond having fun with interpreting the lyrics and sending himself up with the passion of his own classic torch songs. Apart from suggesting the female backing vocals, he had very little to do with the track other that sing, preferring to leave himself in the competent hands of producers Jason Buckle and Tris Penna.
Available on the MARC ALMOND album ‘The Dancing Marquis’ via Strike Force Entertainment / Cherry Red Records
MARC ALMOND Bad To Me (2015)
With the aftermath of his accident and acknowledged as a fine interpreter of other people’s songs, it was understandable that Almond was content with just being able to perform and record. But when producer Chris Braid heard Almond had say “the songwriting muse had all but left me”, he spun into action and sent Almond a number of songs that successfully re-inspired the tainted soul. ‘Bad To Me’ was a wonderfully glitzy, Schaffel stomper that announced Almond’s welcome return to the mainstream.
Available on the MARC ALMOND album ‘The Velvet Trail’ via Strike Force Entertainment / Cherry Red Records
A packed Hoxton Bar was filled to capacity including the DJ who helped popularize KRAFTWERK in UK, Rusty Egan, Stevo (boss of Some Bizarre records and responsible for the legendary album which helped launch DEPECHE MODE, SOFT CELL, THE THE, BLANCMANGE and B-MOVIE), Clive Pierce from HARD CORPS, VILE ELECTRODES and assorted members of SPEAK & SPELL and ANALOG ANGEL.
Support DJ Annie Hogan did a sterling job in warming up the crowd with spins of SOFT CELL’s ‘Memorabilia’, a remix of FAD GADGET’s ‘Coitus Interruptus’ and the ‘Travelogue’ version of ‘Being Boiled’. During the evening’s main set, several of the background images flashed up “WOLFGANG FLÜR – ex-KRAFTWERK”, but in reality, the man (machine) himself needed no such introduction.
There was a huge sense of anticipation as to what Flür would perform, as aside from his time spent with KRAFTWERK and YAMO with MOUSE ON MARS, there has been little in the way of solo work and only the recent release of ‘Activity Of Sound’ by iEUROPEAN (coincidentally Sean Barron of that project was present tonight too).
The set started promisingly with a hard-edged remix of ‘Home Computer’, whilst behind Flür were projected images of his time spent in KRAFTWERK, many of them from his private collection, showing an often unseen and candid side of the band that Hütter and Schneider have constantly tried to suppress. Taken alongside Flür’s controversial book ‘I Was A Robot’, many of the show’s images seemed calculated to help destroy the myth of the band as being automatons who only exist to clock in and out of Kling Klang studio, didn’t have girlfriends, and (God-forbid) enjoyed a social drink or two!
One could easily imagine the sight of Ralf Hütter walking in on the set and face-palming at the sight of some of the (less than flattering) images on show here. However, for the crowd, it provided a fascinating insight into some of the lesser-seen life and times of this iconic German band.
Throughout the set, Flür DJ’d using a Mac and occasionally manipulated a Korg Kaoss pad to filter some of the tracks, and after about 20 minutes it soon became apparent that the set was going to be far from a laurel-resting KRAFTWERK ‘Greatest Hits’ performance despite the reliance on images which seemed to suggest otherwise.
Tracks such as ‘Overdrive’ from Karl Bartos’ 1993 ELEKTRIC MUSIC album ‘Esperanto’ and the unreleased proposed sequel to ‘The Model’: ‘Cover Girl’ by the YAMO project provided some welcome relief from a set of mainly vocal-less techno which made up 80% of the tracks played. Despite a dogged determination not to play the nostalgia card, Flür seemed to thoroughly enjoy himself on stage, mimicking some of the animations behind him, throwing a few dad-dancing shapes and bringing out his Pickelhaube army hat at the climax of a driving techno set.
Ironically, the music and images seemed to click best when there wasn’t the distraction of the KRAFTWERK images behind Flür, with the venues lighting flashing to accompany time-lapse footage synced to the driving beats coming from his computer.
After about an hour the set was over and despite desperate shouts for an encore, Flür came back onto the Hoxton stage and explained that he didn’t have one. Such is his reputation, WOLFGANG FLÜR could have probably played anything vaguely electronic and the majority of the crowd would have travelled home happy.
But for many, it may have felt like a missed opportunity not to showcase some more KRAFTWERK songs. A snippet of the “21st Century” vocal from ‘Expo 2000’ made a tantalizing appearance half way through the set, but that (alongside the opening ‘Home Computer’ remix) was all you got.
With the unexpected passing of TANGERINE DREAM’s Edgar Froese a few days earlier, it did however feel reassuring to be able to enjoy an evening in the company of one of electronic music’s legendary founding fathers, and although the music played may not have been quite what was anticipated, it was still an hour spent with an undeniable legend who’s band and technology formed the blueprint of much of the music we listen to today.