Knocked Cold: Darrin Huss on Soft Cell’s Final Show

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It all started with “Memorabilia.”

Ever since this farewell concert was announced in February, I knew I had to be there. This event would be the culmination of all the joy and inspiration that I felt and experienced ever since I first heard the songs of Soft Cell. Without the music and lyrics of Dave Ball and Marc Almond, I can’t imagine what Psyche would have become.

“Those words you sang, it was my life story..”

It’s nearly impossible to pick favourites. Even if a cover version of “Tainted Love” is what put them on the world map, it’s not as if they wouldn’t have written something like this all on their own. “Torch” or “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” was more than proof of that.

What made them so important to a young singer and fan of electronic music was the vast dramatic soundscapes they created to present the worldly dramas of the stories they had to tell. I could go on about how each song and album guided and defined my own taste in music and songwriting. My heart was bursting in anticipation on Sunday night.

It has taken me a few days to calm down from the experience in order to critically appreciate how being a member of the audience and sharing the love of Soft Cell’s music with over 20,000 people really made me feel, but now on to the show.

Starting with the crunchy funk of “Memorabilia” (where the “Keychains and Snowstorms” tagline was lifted to define their latest compilation) made a great introduction. Marc dressed similar to his classic 80s leather jacket look and Cool Hand Luke sunglasses. Dave Ball, right next to him, was surrounded by a nice bank of iconic synths.

I loved the fact that the duo aesthetic was boldly upfront, despite backing vocalists and additional instrumentalists lurking in the background. “Monoculture,” up next, was a bit of a shock for me personally, as I have a phobia of song titles with the same first letter following one another. However, I appreciated the statement they were making with the song, and showing that, even on the slightly ill fated “Cruelty Without Beauty,” they still had some great synth sequences to show off.

The surprises continued with two more songs from the belated 4th album, and I have to admit the 3 tracks in a row worked well; but I could’ve lived with one less if it meant having room for some other rare favourites. High marks for turning “Together Alone” into a psychotic horror trip through the performance and visual. One of my early favourites in the set.

The visuals on the screen were very effective for many songs, but more on that later, as next up was “Torch” – where I started crying. This song was simply accompanied by the beautiful sleeve artwork by Huw Feather. Would have loved the full length version of this song, but that might’ve been too much, and without the presence of Cindy Ecstasy it wouldn’t have been the same. At least Gary Barnacle was there to provide his original saxiness!

I had to find forgiveness for another two songs with the same first letter in a row, and “Forever the Same” was the compensation. That one nearly broke me. Especially the amazing orchestration of the 4 backing vocalists taking over for what was originally played on the Melotron. Can’t even remember if there was a visual for this one – I think I sang along with my eyes closed. I was a lost teenager again.

Am I going to review every song? Fuck yes! Keeping it short for some, though, as I admit that I have a love/hate relationship with “Baby Doll”. It was well performed, although the visuals were a bit weak. I would have much preferred “Seedy Films” instead.

“Insecure Me,” of course, is the masterpiece B-side of “Torch,” which are probably the best two songs ever written and put on a single together. Those two songs are pure Soft Cell magic.

Next up with “Where The Heart Is” is where things started to get messy, and I began to feel anxious for my heroes. Marc missed a few words, but we all sang along with the chorus, and what seemed on the edge of disaster ended on a supportive note. “Numbers” was hinted at with the false start of the bassline, but Marc wanted some time to tell the world about his inspiration from John Rechy, who probably most people have never read, as it kind of helps if you’re immersed in underground gay literature. I love the song, and it also freaks me out a little. The visual was pretty sleazy and wacko, so that made up for what was unfortunately a poorly placed moment to highlight this wonderfully odd song. I have read the book as well, so there!

Once again, compensation was made with the achingly beautiful performance of “Barriers,” which I admittedly have tended to ignore the most of all the grandiose B-sides. Well, this live version taught me a lesson, and it must mean a lot to my guys as it’s now on their new hits collection. I would’ve started crying again, but instead my mouth was open and I just stared ahead in shock and awe of the moment I just witnessed.

I honestly think the next block of songs started to skew towards disappointment, as it was very hard to follow the arresting beauty of “Barriers”.

“Loving You, Hating Me” is also a love/hate song (sic!). Marc messed up a line here, too, so suffice it to say I was a bit put off as the Suicide Boys and Girls in the accompanying video were just a little too silly after a while, as well. “Last Chance” was also woefully misplaced as well as being another “L” title. Aghhhhhh! However. this one brought out Mari Wilson. and the whole combination of this kitschy cute duet made me wonder why the hell didn’t they record it like this on the “Cruelty Without Beauty” album in the first place? At least now it;s on the forthcoming live album. Poignant.

The original Mutant Moments style of *Frustration” was kinda neat, but here I could think of 3 other songs from Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret that I would have preferred. I think most fans would agree. “Entertain Me” or “Chips On My Shoulder” come to mind. At least we did get the lovely “Youth” though.

Again, I have to say there are a few Soft Cell songs that are much lower on the list for me and “The Best Way to Kill” is one of them. However, after a few false starts (on purpose?), Marc tore into it with all its arty punk flavour, and the visuals were hilarious – so you got me there, guys!

Following “Kill” with “Meet Murder My Angel” took the whole show further into violent territory, which again made the atmosphere rather daunting for what many may have thought was going to be a fluffy synthpop show. I needed this song however, and boy was it a killer performance. Screechy, creepy and again the amazing choir vocals. I could normally live without “Surrender to a Stranger,” but this time the placement was perfect and the soaring vocals were so fantastic it became an Italian opera and swept me away.

First half could have ended there, as “Somebody, Somewhere, Sometime” (didn’t we already have enough S’sss by now?) doesn’t truly highlight what makes Soft Cell unique, but, well, a nice excuse to use the laser lightshow technique.

“So” we get an Instrumental Break like in the theatre, only I have to dance anyway because I freakin’ love this track. Another “S” but ok.

Now we are at the second half; and, if the first part was a little shambolic (as Marc said) but otherwise amazing, the second half, oh my Goth! I will now compress my review here, as there are no words for the majesty which followed. “Martin,” which I myself have covered and decided to open the Psyche show with at The Islington the night before. Oh, I don’t know what to say – the visual, the vocals, the absolutely everything about this song was beyond my wildest dreams, and then they hit you with “Heat”! I’m sure the fans of the dark dramatic side of Soft Cell would agree that, after those two in a row, you could safely die knowing you had just witnessed the high point of everything Soft Cell needed to achieve at this concert.

However, they were just getting warmed up!

Second album title track, “The Art Of Falling Apart,” was soaring, and as it peaks it’s followed by the truly joyous electro Motown of new song, “Northern Lights,” which is a bit a of a grower, but yeah – sweet!

“Divided Soul” was apparently skipped over, and as much as I like that newer track, too, “Soul Inside” is the original “Soul” title in the œuvre and I just wanted to scream to the sky!

Well, you know I did. After that, it just gets insane.

“What” is cute. “Bedsitter” – glorious.

Then, of course, it’s gotta be “Tainted Love” with the continuation of “Where Did Our Love Go”. By now you realize that all is righteous and good in the world because that single opened the door to all the possibilities that came after.

“Sex Dwarf” was fun and, as almost all reviews have pointed out, proves that Soft Cell won the right to be the most diverse little synth duo ever already on their first album by making this sleazy ditty such a great singalong at the disco – and now having 20,000 people and more screaming and singing those two words. From “Tainted Love” to “Sex Dwarf,” it’s not too far to go with Soft Cell. A necessary evil!

Finally, we say goodbye – the tears of joy mixed with blasts of confetti as the ride of a lifetime through vaudeville and burlesque comes to an end.

Perfectly imperfect – a spiritual mess of emotions, a wild celebration of feelings inside.

Thank you Marc and Dave, thank you Soft Cell.

“Those words you sang, it was my life story”

Love, Darrin Huss

Darrin Campbell Huss is a founding member of Psyche.

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