MARC ALMOND: FANTASTIC POP OUTING

July 23, 2009 – 4:11 am

Marc Almond first found recognition with the synthpop duo Soft Cell which disbanded in 1984. Since then, Almond had released records such as Violent Silence (1986), Jacques (1989), Tenement Symphony (1991) and Absinthe: The French Album (1993). DJ/musician/critic X’Ho caught up with Almond when Almond was promoting his 1996 album, Fantastic Star. This article was published in BigO #126 (June 1996).

It must be tough being Marc Almond in 1996. Your record company - Mercury, which used to market your former group, Soft Cell, seems hardly ecstatic about the new album. Which, mind you, is the first the singer has recorded for the label since re-signing with it. I was informed that the album is not a priority release. On behalf of the Marc Almond contingent named Vaudeville & Burlesque, I had a good mind to send over a time-bomb to threaten the record company.

But then, I have friends there…

It must be tough.

Marc Almond - the name seems to elicit a kind of bemused disinterest among some who think that Oasis, Pulp and Supergrass are the only thing to bother about. Almond is thought of as a tacky ageing pop star desperately trying to score another, and yet another, hit.

It must be tough too that the frivolous English music press is too busy chasing after the next pop sensation (ask Teenage Fanclub and Suede if that’s the truth!) to notice anything you’ve done in the last 10 years.

It must really be tough because you have put out such great albums and the new one, Fantastic Star, is so excellent a pop outing. I made it a point to tell Almond that when we spoke on St Valentine’s Day on the phone: “You’ve out-done yourself with Fantastic Star,” I said with the elation of one touched by a gift of three dozen roses. Only this was better. I was connected long-distance with my hero. Once, it used to be Bowie and Lou Reed. Almond must be that special to fill those shoes. A has-been? Hardly.

MARC ALMOND: I wanna say how much I love your album, Punk Monk Hunk.

X’HO: You do?! That means a lot to me.

Yeah, it’s great. I really love it and I love the song you did for me as well. I play it a lot at home.

Thank you so much. I think your new album is an album of very strong material. The songs are very strong and melodic.

I actually started recording the album in ‘93 and I finished it a year ago. But there’ve been so many delays. In that time, I’ve worked with a few producers for the songs - Mike Thorne in New York whom I did the first Soft Cell albums with; Martyn Ware on the more electro tracks - Martyn of Heaven 17 and Human League; and Mike Hedges with whom I recorded Vermin In Ermine, Stories Of Johnny and Mother Fist. It’s really been a three-year journey, which is probably why the album has been quite diverse.

But why the delay in releasing it?

It’s a record company thing. They decided that there are so many strong singles, they wanted to put those out first to pave the way for the album. Then there was a tour that was to happen which didn’t. I can’t say it’s a situation I’m happy with, ‘cos musically, I’ve now moved on. I’ve written new songs, I wanna record a new album. And this delay has held me back quite a lot.

Would you say you’ve gone full circle with Fantastic Star?

With every record I put out, I want to bring on a different angle, a different progression, and though I’ve gone back to my early roots with this album, I think you have to look back to go forward. By looking back, I don’t mean you have to recreate something you did years ago. But you take the spirit of what you did to give it a whole new fresh approach.

At the end of Tenement Symphony, where I worked with Trevor Horn, it got to such a big production level with 70-piece orchestra, I started to feel a bit lost. So I want to return to something a bit more basic, a little more minimal in the spirit of Soft Cell with a sense of humour. And to do something I could take on the road and play live. And, for the first time, I’ve been incorporating some of the old Soft Cell songs in the shows that I haven’t played for about 12 years.

All this makes one wonder what direction you’d be taking next? Part Two of Fantastic Star?

I never really do any album that’s Part Two. There are not so many of the big dark ballads on this album and there probably will be on the next. I wanna do something a bit more strange, surreal and deeper, less artificial; ‘cos a lot of the pop here on this new album is very glamorous, artificial pop. I wanna do an album that’s more erotic with a late night feet to it. But I still enjoy doing a lot of the electro style I did on Fantastic Star. So I won’t be abandoning that so soon. And there’s talk of me and Dave Bell (ex-Soft Cell partner, now of The Grid) writing more songs together as well.

On the subject of the album’s The Idol, how are you grappling with the reality of celebrity - being “adored and explored”?

It’s always been a double-edged sword. That’s been that side of me that’s very shy. Sometimes I just want to lock myself in the house and not go out. There’s the part of me that can play the part and enjoy it. I’ve always had this conflict. I used to have to move my residence several times ‘cos fans rang at my door at three in the morning. I’ve never really been a good celebrity. I’m not the kind who love to have their photographs taken. But I do love being onstage performing and that’s where I feel truly alive.

What was it like to work with Mike Thorne again?

A lot of the songs I did with Mike didn’t work out successfully. It was a bit of a mistake in a way to go back and work with Mike. I wanted some of the songs re-mixed so I went to the Beatmasters.

What about the song, Love To Die For?

That and Come In Sweet Assassin were recorded in the studio with John Cale playing the piano, David Johansen of the New York Dolls on blues harmonica and guitarist Chris Spedding. Those tracks were recorded live in the studio as part of a live session. There’s a big guitar presence on this aIbum and it’s probably the biggest I’ve had on an album. There is a rock edge of me that hasn’t been brought out before. I realised I was really influenced by a lot of guitar music - Elvis, Iggy, Siouxsie & The Banshees…

Shining Brightly, the last song on the album, sounds like Euro - with a vengeance.

I co-wrote Shining Brightly with a famous London techno DJ, Mrs Woods. I think it’s a very optimistic way to end the album. Like Adored And Explored, it’s about rising out of the gutter and reaching for the stars.

It makes me think of Erasure.

I’m not really an Erasure fan, though I think Erasure were totally influenced by Soft Cell. It’s Martyn Ware’s involvement as he’s worked with Erasure before.

I can imagine an Erasure remix, if you’ll let them, that is.

I can’t. (laughs)

Law Of The Night, the non-album track on The Idol single, is a gem of an outtake the way Dancing In A Golden Cage is on The Days Of Pearly Spencer single.

Yeah, I really, really like it a lot but the record company didn’t. Besides, the amount of songs we put on the CD was the maximum. We couldn’t really put everything in, so some will appear on the singles as B-sides (for example, Lie was recorded three years ago and is now on Out There).

Have you heard anything that’s influenced you lately?

I buy a lot of CDs and listen to new bands. But nothing really … I’ve been listening to a lot of tango music - Argentinian and Spanish stuff. There’s a whole big revival of the New Romantic scene called the New Romo: The New Wave of New Romantics in clubs like Arcadia and Club Skinny. Lots of bands influenced by Soft Cell, Duran Duran, Ultravox and Roxy Music.

Some of them are quite good. I’ve been working in the studio with a band called Viva, producing a single for them. It’s the first time I’m doing that and I enjoy it very much and I’d like to do more of it. The New Romo is taking a lot of the ’80s influences and giving it a ’90s re-invention.

There’s a lot of divided opinion about it here. But people haven’t really heard the bands. There’s a band called the Plastic Fantastic, another called Orlando, Sexless who’s very Soft Cell and Pet Shop Boys influenced. And they’re a reaction against the Oasis and Blur Brit-pop thing, heralding a return to glamorous pop.

Will it take off?

I don’t know. It depends on how good the songs and bands are. Like everything that happens, some good things will emerge and some dreadful as well. It remains to be seen.

Listening to Fantastic Star, I get the feeling that it’s too good to behold. You’ve out-done yourself.

Please speak to my record company, Chris. I feel very good about the album. It’s been a long journey doing it and now I just want to move on.

Note: In 2004, Marc Almond was badly injured in a motorcycle accident. He has long recovered and his new album, Orpheus In Exile, is expected in September 2009.

And X’Ho says: “Do find out more about $ingapore below the surface from www.xhosux.com and my new book ‘How To Be More Win-Win Than The MM‘ available online there.”

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