Record Review: Soft Cell – Memorabilia UK 12″

soft cell memorabilia 12" single cover

Some Bizzare ‎| UK | 12″ | 1981 | HARD 12

Soft Cell: Memorabilia UK 12″ [1981]

  1. Memorabilia [long version]
  2. Persuasion [long version]

Back in 1982, I can recall first encountering the Soft Cell track “Memorabilia” on the “Non-Stop Ecstatic Dancing” remix album that followed in the wake of “Tainted Love’s” intergalactic success. The “remix album” had been born a year earlier with The B-52’s getting six tracks from their first two albums remixed as a stopgap release the summer of 1981. The next year, in the UK,  Soft Cell and The Human League picked up on that notion, each daring to sell different versions of music already released even as the notion of the extended 12″ was just getting established.

soft cell the 12" singles CD cover

For this more convenient 3xCD set that had all of the 10xCD single box and more for 1/10th of the cost.

What I didn’t know at the time was that “Memorabilia” had been the band’s first single for Some Bizzare and had been released in March of 1981 in advance of the second single in July that had Changed Everything. Blurring the lines was that on 7″ “Memorabilia” was present in a 4:51 mix as the B-side to “A Man Could Get Lost.” On the 12″ we’re discussing, the B-side was swapped to the A-side of the disc [sort of like Spandau Ballet’s “Musclebound/Glow”] at a 7:45 length with a new track, “Persuasion” being the B-side here. I would not hear these tracks until buying the German boxed set of Soft Cell singles on CD-5 some time in 1990. In recent years, the 3xCD omnibus of that box [and more] allowed me to sell of the earlier German box for about what I paid for it in 1990, so no harm done. Apart from the cripplingly expensive “Mutant Moments” EP, this 12″ was effectively Soft Cell’s debut single.

The drum machine was one of the old analog units making a beat that any Depeche Mode fan might recognize from that 1980 zeitgeist. The two-norte synth bass hook throbbed incessantly and the single chord never changed for the entirety of the relentless number. At first I thought that Soft Cell sideman Dave Tofani had played a tenor sax hook throughout the song, but he had no credit here, so what I was imagined was a reed was actually David Ball on synth. This was a single minded track that sprawled as the song was wont to do until at 2:57 a hard splice that was incredibly jarring cut the melodic development of the song right off as it now leapt forward into dubspace with some delightfully ham-fisted effects indicating that we were no longer in Kansas.

That it was all done with the least possible in taste was terribly appropriate to Soft Cell. So there were a lot of sounds blooming into soft focus sonic puddles here. Marc Almond re-entered with more vocals in the last two minutes of the long track; vamping on Torremolinos, Andalucia and its’ tourist culture chock full of the sort of cheap, tawdry souvenirs that the song dealt with. I can’t call it climactic since the song was constructed as a relentless straight line from start to finish with no middle eight, no drop, no climax. It was dance music with few of the features that we’ve come to know and expect in the form.

As much as the A-side here was a far cry from “Tainted Love,” the B-side actually hit much closer to the avant-garde side of the street than anything else Soft Cell would release from that point onward. “Persuasion” is nothing less than a nervous breakdown that took place in a grocery store as Almond was assaulted by subliminal exhortations to “buy-buy-product” in the nearly a cappella intro that had only bleeps and drones as the accompaniment to his increasingly frantic collapse. The elements of the track piled on like the hard sell of the marketplace itself. Maybe this was the track where Soft Cel’s name was coined by?

This was absolutely an example of “miminal synth” aesthetics at their purest as the band were not far from the feel of The Normal’s “Warm Leatherette.” That was hardly surprising since it was produced by Daniel Miller, albeit with a far more layered production as voice upon voice mirrored Almond’s breakdown in the face of all of the commercialism. Well, the resulting track was the furthest thing from commercial. The detuned synths that accompanied Almonds shrieks and shouts were not too far from the sort of dissonance that Cabaret Voltaire favored in the late 70s. The drum breakdown amid only the drums and drones that accompanied Almond’s broken sobbing brought the already frayed track to a ramshackle, foreboding end.

This was precisely the Soft Cell single that you should play for a palate-cleansing exercise after too much exposure to “Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go.” True, it’s got nothing on the mature Soft Cell of highly emotional, knowing Marc Almond performances like those of “Torch,” or “Where The Heart Is,” but it was an effective reminder of the dark electronic roots of the band that were closer to Throbbing Gristle than Culture Club. And that could only be a good thing.

– 30 –

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25 Responses to Record Review: Soft Cell – Memorabilia UK 12″

  1. Soft Cell was so misunderstood. If a genre must be specified, I think “art-disco sleaze” would do nicely. At around the same time as these early Soft Cell singles, Marc was doing guest vocals for ex-TG alums Coil on their album Horse Rotorvator. Talk about straddling two different sonic worlds.

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      desertcurmudgeon – Welcome to the comments! I’ll never forget hearing the Marc + the Mambas [as Marc Almond + Friends] cover of TG’s “Discipline” from the pages of Flexipop courtesy of a tape letter from chasinvictoria back in 1982! All we had heard was the debut album by Soft Cell and this was indeed shocking.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Echorich says:

    I’ve always thought of Soft Cell as completely uncompromising. All their musical choices were their own. Even calling it a day was done on their terms. It’s the frenetic pace coupled with the minimalist, almost naive approach that makes it special. It for all of Soft Cells amazing work, I will always go back to A Man Can Get Lost and it’s over the top reworking as A Man Could Get Lost on NSED as my favorite of all.

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    • Echorich says:

      Proof I should not comment from my iPhone…I was initially referencing Memorabilia and it’s minimalist naivety before rhapsodizing A man Can Get Lost.

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    • Mathmandan says:

      I love “A Man Could Get Lost!” Both incarnations actually. The instrumental version is one of my favorite instrumentals of the 80s, with runner-up “So,” the b-side of the “What” single.

      Like

      • Vlad says:

        Second every word :) In fact “A Man could get lost” is my favourite song by Soft Cell (bar maybe “Girl with the patent leather face”), the one I always have time for. Can’t quite formulate but it has that certain something most of their later songs lack.

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  3. djjedredy says:

    “Numbers” is another great, later track from them. So fitting in today’s Society.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Tim says:

    Soft Cell – 1st single A Man Could Get Lost / Memorabilla
    Pet Shop Boys – 1st single – West End Girls / A Man Could Get Arrested.

    geez a guy could get killed out there if he isn’t careful.

    Does anyone have any word on the new Marc Almond album due this week?
    The more recent stuff isn’t really to my taste so I have reservations about blind buying.
    I was happy to see last weeks’ PSB was generally a return to form (that wedding song is a right howler, though).

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – I was just discussing with Gavin how I had not heard the first note Almond had made solo following “Tenement Symphony” yesterday. I was looking the other day at his Discogs feed and there’s a ton of work. His recent 2018 60s cover album pushes all of those Scott Walker buttons he pushes so well, so that one intrigues me.

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      • Gavin says:

        The post-90s Almond album I said that I had but couldnt remember the name of was “Stranger Things”,from 2001.Its rather dated sounding now as it was done by some trendy Icelandic production team with “the latest gadgets”.it does include a trulty beautiful track “Glorious” and its reprise however.
        I may also own “Fantastic Star” but it was obviously so bad that I buried it in a lead lined casket in the garden.

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      • Tim says:

        I have a bunch of the post Tenement Symphony work, stylistically it is all over the map.
        Fantastic Star
        Open All Night
        Stranger Things
        are all consistent but one’s mileage may vary based on what they like
        Stardom Road has some interesting tracks
        Shadows and Reflections also has some interesting tracks.
        A lot of the other albums are sampled on the huge box set that came out a couple years back which is a good way to test and see if anything is to your liking. I give him credit for stretching the borders of his sound, he doesn’t get as inaccessible as say, some of the recent David Sylvia, but if you’re looking for a more nuts and bolts pop sound some of the last decades output probably won’t be to your liking.

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      • Echorich says:

        I feel 2015’s The Velvet Trail is among Marc Almond’s greatest albums. HIs solo work is core to my music collection. Yes there are some dated and maybe even embarrassing moments in his discography, but there are so many highlights and many of them are from the post Tenement Symphony era.
        Slow Burn Love, from Chaos and a Dancing Star have a classic Pop feel. It continues his exploration of Pop from different Eras and creating something of his own. Hollywood Forever is a reflective, self-effacing track that shines a light on just how strong Almonds voice continues to be. Lord Of Misrule features, gulp, Ian Anderson on flute – it’s not too much thankfully. The track is Marc using song for socio-political commentary which is very relevant. The track is VERY 70s rock inspired, yet there is some of the darker Marc Almond at the heart of the track.

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  5. Mr Fab says:

    I revisited this fantastic period of Soft Cell some months ago, and was struck by “Memorabilia”‘s resemblance to “Warm Leatherette.” Don’t think I noticed it back in the day. Produced by Mr Normal himself, that explains it.

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  6. Tim says:

    Liking very much the new Marc Almond (Chaos & The Dancing Star) and the new Pet Shop Boys is quite good. They’re both returns to form, heck the PSB one could be called Recycled as they crib their own catalog to generally quite satisfactory results.
    Both of these albums are released by warhorses with careers that are sonically all over the map, some hit the spot better than other but here we’re just back in both cases to dependably good efforts. I can tell you that both of these releases are the first in years for either act where I want to re-listen right away and the hit.miss ratio favors the hits.
    2020 is off to a great start, new top notch work by Girl Called Eddy, PSB and Marc Almond. February – December has it’s work cut out for it.

    Like

    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – I’ve been interested in each of the last three PSB albums but I never see them for sale on CD when I look for them. I was especially let down when the local “hip” store that would/should have carried “Electric” at the time that PSB played Moogfest in town [2014] still never carried it. Not even in their “coming soon” rack where they always had the latest albums of acts hitting town in the coming months. As 2016 started off like a disaster and just got worse over time, let’s hope that this is an omen for the shape of things to come.

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      • Tim says:

        Stay far, FAR away from (NOT-) Super. There’s probably 2-3 good tracks on it that you could do ala carte downloads of. Sadly these will probably be slim pickins for you in used locales as this one came out when cd was being shoved out of the sales queue by overpriced vinyl.
        Electric is a real acquired taste and has stronger tracks but is still a weak entry.
        Hotspot is the one to go for. The songs really sit well in the context of the album and actually fare less well as singles. Monkey Business, the new single, has buckets of attitude and never really gels, but in the sequence of the album works quite well (the video is fun, too, by the way). There’s some really nice slow burners on this one, too.
        The new Marc Almond has much to endorse it, too, but really I can’t shove Eddy and the PSB out of the way right now to give it the time it deserves.

        Like

  7. Tim says:

    A Girl Called Eddy. Great pop music, Start with the self titled album from 2003, use this years follow up as a chaser. Repeat as needed.

    Like

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