2022’s ‘*Happiness not included’ was SOFT CELL’s first album of new material since ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ which hit the shops 20 years before.
Seeded by a reunion following their original 1984 disbandment, after a difficult album campaign for ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ which front man Marc Almond later described as “a terrible mistake”, he and instrumental partner Dave Ball became estranged for many years . That was until a 2018 reunion show at London’s O2 Arena; although this was intended to be a formal retirement party for the Northern electronic soul duo, their “synthesis of sunshine and shadow” could not be denied or resisted.
“Dave and I were transformed by each other” said Almond and like a chemical reaction, there was a second joyous recorded reunion. Although it stated clearly on the tin ‘*Happiness not included’, such was the rejuvenation that although 12 songs ended up on the album, there was enough unused songs, cover versions, bonuses, B-sides and extended mixes to compile two new collections for a ‘Happiness…’ trilogy.
Produced as with the parent album by Philip Larsen, ‘*Happiness now extended’ presents the original ‘*Happiness not included’ album as traditional 12” versions to encapsulate the early clubbing spirit and imperial phase of SOFT CELL. With many of the tracks conceived as longer works, the title song, ‘Nighthawks’ and ‘Tranquiliser’ particularly benefit from this treatment.
But ‘*Happiness now completed’ is effectively a new album, featuring a significant number of previously unreleased tracks as well as reworkings of several other recordings that did not feature in the main act. Among the best tracks are two cover versions , ‘First Hand Experience In Second Hand Love’ which was originally on Giorgio Moroder’s pioneering 1977 album ‘From Here To Eternity’ which spawned a Top 20 hit single of the same name and X RAY SPEX ‘The Day The World Turned Day-Glo’, a No23 UK hit in 1978.
With ‘Tainted Love’, ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’, ‘What’, ‘You Only Live Twice’, ‘Down In The Subway’ and ‘The Night’ in their portfolio already, SOFT CELL have a good track record with covers and ‘First Hand Experience In Second Hand Love’ locks into a fine spacious electronic groove, complete with vocoder to make a fine SOFT CELL dance track in its own right.
Meanwhile in a brilliant metronomic electro tribute to Poly Styrene, ‘The Day The World Turned Day-Glo’ takes a musical leaf out of ‘Sex Dwarf’ with Ball making his syndrums and synths sound so menacing yet accessible, while Almond delivers a vocal recalling the anguish of ‘Martin’ with sleazy sax passages from Gary Barnacle resonating with the dystopian lyrics.
‘Back To Nature’ is an improved version with a new vocal of the FAD GADGET cover that originally came from the ‘Magick Mutants’ bonus EP in the 2019 book, ‘To Show You I’ve Been There’. While it is a nice tribute “For Frank” Tovey who was a fellow art student at Leeds Polytechnic, it perhaps does not shine as brightly as ‘The Day The World Turned Day-Glo’ or ‘First Hand Experience In Second Hand Love’
Of the self-compositions, one of the highlights is ‘Murder Your Darlings’ where the minimal template of vintage chattering Roland drum machine and pulsating electronics allows the spirit of SOFT CELL to come across best. But in an unexpected twist, the windswept tones of ULTRAVOX add another icy dimension. ‘Jukebox Head’ also follows this sparser template although in a more frantic fashion as it buzzes and blips before amusingly threatening to drift into ‘Sometimes When We Touch’, the 1977 ballad hit by Dan Hill…
The ‘Bruises On All My Illusions’ B-side ‘Vapourise’ is a superb inclusion and really should have made it onto the parent album along with several other songs; ‘Quiet Rebellion’ comes over as an obvious outtake from the original ‘*Happiness not included’ album while the previously issued ‘Strange Kinda Dance’ does as it suggests in its dark electro-disco and heavier beats. More steadfast and filmic, ‘Defiant’ provides the drama.
Originally part of the 8 GB USB stick sold at the London O2 show in 2018, the nocturnal motorik YOLO thrill that is ‘Night & The City’ is updated for 2023 while in a similar energetic vein, ‘Gemini Lounge’ sees Dave Ball take a leaf out of the Vince Clarke book of sequencing as the rhythmic tension builds.
Born of desire, ‘You Kill Me’ offers a bouncy Gene Pitney flavour and a great line in “cyanide on a rollercoaster ride” as well as “sha-dup” backing vocals. Then in a re-recording of the song from ‘Cruelty Without Beauty’ reworked with brass for that classic downtown pop feel, ‘Last Chance’ presents the follow-up to ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’ like Tony Hatch meeting SOFT CELL.
Various radio edits of songs such as ‘Nostalgia Machine’ and ‘Bruises On All My Illusions’ plus a take on ‘*Happiness not lncluded’ featuring Gary Barnacle on sax are also among the extras but Cellmates will be fascinated by the original SOFT CELL only version of ‘Purple Zone’ which is a far more restrained production than the more familiar PET SHOP BOYS kitchen sink rework.
Happiness gets completed with the “dirty disco” Chris & Cosey remix of ‘Nighthawks’ which Dave Ball recently declared his favourite third party remix of the current era of SOFT CELL; “it doesn’t bear much resemblance to the original” he said, “but it still sounds fantastic.”
‘*Happiness Now Completed’ is a worthy supplement that contains some excellent tracks to provide an appendix to this phase of SOFT CELL, but what next? “I’ve always said that I’m up for new Soft Cell music if Dave has the tunes” says Marc Almond. Meanwhile Dave Ball said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “I’ve been getting some new rough ideas for backing tracks for SOFT CELL, should there be another album. Marc seems to want to do another one and I do. I hope there may be another SOFT CELL album but you’re going to have to wait a while…”
It looks like they might well say hello again 😉
‘*Happiness now completed’ released on 28 July 2023 via BMG as a CD + download, available from https://www.softcell.co.uk/product/happiness-now-completed-cd
The companion limited edition black double vinyl album ‘*Happiness now extended’ with download key is also out on the same day, available from https://www.softcell.co.uk/product/happiness-now-extended-double-black-vinyl
Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Andrew Whitton
25 July 2023