Goat Boy can't carry Judge Brett Cullum's jock when it comes to early '80s dance-pop knowledge.
"Once I ran to you / Now I run from you / This tainted love you're giving / I give you all a boy could give you / Take my tears and that's not nearly (OHHHH!)…" (sounds of slapping)
Soft Cell's Non-Stop Exotic Video Show represents a video album version of their 1982 album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret. Everyone will recognize their lone hit, "Tainted Love," but few people know much more about the band that produced this single. Marc Almond and Dave Ball were art school students who decided to form an electronic band right at the dawn of the New Wave era. They were from London, and described as an "androgynous electro-duo," which was really code for "gay punk." They took classic dance and rhythm/blues music, and paired them with a synthetic cold sound that dominated nightclubs throughout the '80s. Marc Almond was a flamboyant skinny queen with a huge pretty voice who wore lots of make-up and had tons of hair, and Dave Ball was a keyboardist who stood aloof behind his instrument in a skinny tie. "Tainted Love" was a cover of a Gloria Jones soul recording that became their signature hit. It stayed on the U.S. charts for an exhausting forty-three weeks, and was the best-selling British single of the year. The band's first album was wildly inventive, had great depth, and was pretty damn flawless. Unfortunately, they only stayed together long enough to release two follow-ups, neither of which charted well. 2002 saw them reuniting for a new disc and a reunion tour that capitalized on the ongoing '80s revival. Pop giants Boy George, Duran Duran, and the Eurythmics all seem to have been influenced by their music and style. And hell—the Pet Shop Boys, Erasure, and lately Fischerspooner flat-out stole their formula. "Memorabilia" is credited as being the very first "techno" song, and Soft Cell remains influential to this day.
All the cool kids had the Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret album back in the day. Even the ones who listened to punk found it chillingly well-produced. Soft Cell had soul, even if it was awash in a sea of keyboards. They were cutting edge, and much of the music here still sounds that way twenty years later. The formula for the songs was "sickly sweet sentiments sung by a soaring songster over sparse synthesizer symphonies." The results were detached, but still heart-wrenching in their aloof way; Marc Almond's pretty tenor stretching across Dave Ball's cool detached music.
The videos included in the release are as follows:
I remember MTV's debut back in 1981, and I thought that every video back then was totally cool and awesome. Now they look silly and dated. Unfortunately, even though Soft Cell sounds fresh, the videos date them horribly. Did anyone really wear that much eyeliner? Did we really think those bracelets looked good on guys? Did anyone not know that this was a gay guy making out with all these models? Maybe it was too many drugs or something, but we were all clueless in 1982. Marc Almond minces as he lip synchs through the dry ice smoke and the day-glo sets that look like fifty bucks bought them. Soft Cell's music conjured up dangerous images of pan-sexual pimps selling drugs and dwarves to barely conscious dance divas, but the videos are a lot of pink neon and bad hair dye. Take the video for "Tainted Love," where Almond appears in a toga, complete with shaved legs and a flowery crown. He sings the song to a small eight-year old African girl (also in a toga), who just smiles back at him blankly. Meanwhile Juliette Binoche (I swear it is her) sits next to him in an outfit that seems to have been pilfered from My Fair Lady's horse racing sequence. Dave Ball shows up in a modern Polo outfit, and a bare-chested black man fans them all. But seriously, that's half the charm of these videos. They scream "RETRO," and I giggled with idiotic glee while they rolled by in all their cheap, dated, wacky. so-hip-it-hurts glory.
Sanctuary Records did an awesome job with the mastering of this DVD. All the videos seem to have been cleaned up as much as they could be, and the sound kicks out in either a traditional stereo or a well-done 5.1 Dolby mix. The songs sound great, and the dated visuals look as if they were shot only last week. If you're a fan, this will make you giddy with joy. My only gripe was the lack of a full-length video for "Sex Dwarf." Instead, it plays over the end credits with some Pong graphics added to entertain you (a little). Also, there are absolutely no regional restrictions on this disc, so you can travel around the world and share this DVD with your European and Asian friends (assuming they have NTSC playback capability). There are international subtitles provided too, but they only appear on the spoken bits, which amount to two minutes or so.
I love the '80s! And this release makes me happier than a high score on Ms. Pac-man. Soft Cell was a revolutionary band who made New Wave seem dangerous and cool. "Sex Dwarf" and "Tainted Love" still sound kinky and fresh, and they kick serious ass over anything out right now in pop or dance music. I still hear them at clubs, and kids who were not even born until after this music went off the charts run to the dance floor when they play.
Give us your feedback!
Scales of Justice
• Sex Dwarf (audio only)
Review content copyright © 2004 Brett Cullum; Site design and review layout copyright © 2015 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.