Two weeks ago, I made a statement which was quite wrong, but it was something I only found out after doing the research for this particular post. Read on and you’ll soon find out.
Marc Almond’s stock was reasonably high in the mid-90s, helped by positive press around his live shows and his uncanny ability to achieve major chart success with some 45 or other every few years.
There were huge hopes for his ninth studio album what with Marc composing songs at a furious rate, many of which he was promising would showcase the many styles he had utilised throughout his career, from barnstorming showstoppers to the most heart-wrenching of ballads. The record label were looking to hook him up again with Mike Thorne, the producer who had delivered so much at the commercial peak of Soft Cell, but the plan was vetoed by long-term manager and confidante, Stevo Pearce (of Some Bizarre fame) and the record ended up being made over an extended period in different studios with different producers in the chair. Unsurprisingly, the finished product feels a little disjointed and suffers from a lack of overall control with it stretching out to 16 tracks and more than 70 minutes in length – this was an era when labels and artists seem determined to fill the entire capacity of a single CD, making the error that fans and consumers wanted quantity rather than quality….
The roll-call of performers on Fantastic Star is quite an eye-opener. Some of the songs were co-composed with Steve Nieve (Elvis Costello & The Attractions) while Martin Ware (The Human League/Heaven 17) played on tracks as well as taking spells in the producer’s chair. Oh, and John Cale (The Velvet Underground) and David Johannsen (The New Yorks Dolls) also dropped in to add contributions on piano and harmonica respectively. I should also mention that the main collaborator in the studio was Neal X (aka Neal Whitmore) who had been guitarist in 80s cult band, Sigue Sigue Sputnik.
The only problem is that the album was doomed to fail on its release in February 1996 , for the simple reason that its best tracks had all been issued as singles many months prior, only one of which had delivered on its goal of chart success.
This is the mistake from a couple of weeks back as I was certain that The Days of Pearly Spencer was the last time Marc hit the Top 40. This upbeat electronic number is one of Marc’s best moments, providing evidence, if any were needed, that he still had a knack for the sort of tune that sounds great whether blasting out of the radio or from the speakers in your home.
Worth mentioning also this was also the era of multi-formatting with record labels issuing different versions of the CD singles, most of which simply had remixes of the main track. It’s far too time-consuming to try to track all of these down, so all I’m going to offer up are the other original songs made available on what were usually labelled ‘CD1’.
I’ve featured this track before on the blog, back in January 2016, in which I suggested Marc had been uncanny in his prediction of future events…….
The Idol starts off as homage to The Jean Genie before it turns into a sort of Stars on 45 tribute to the glam rock that I recall from the early 70s. Great guitar riffs, amazing backing vocals, and a pumping chorus. Tailored made for radio but got absolutely no exposure on the mainstream daytime shows.
Oh, and here’s the two other tracks on the CD single that I have sitting on the shelf:-
The ‘Unplugged cover’ of the Soft Cell hit is particularly wonderful. No synths – just acoustic guitars and harmonicas. And proof that Marc was a better singer than most gave him credit for.
I reckon this is the most Almondesque of all the solo releases. A weepy ballad which has quiet reflective moments along with the most OTT pop orchestration to reach your ears. There’s even a bit where you think it will end only for one final incredibly dramatic and show-stopping surge to tug on your heartstrings. It’s a magnificent production to which Marc gives it his all….and it really was so much more deserving than the miserly #41 position. One appearance on Top of The Pops could have changed everything…..
The Edge of Heartbreak would later also feature on the parent album (the release of which had been delayed until early 1996) while the inclusion of Christmas In Vegas enabled fans to pick up on a track previously released only via a limited edition flexidisc.
The single which accompanied the release of the parent album – it was meant to be a double-A side effort although these things are impossible to determine when it’s CD and not vinyl. Out There and Brilliant Creatures were on Fantastic Star while Lie became the last from this incredibly bountiful song-writing period to find light of day.
Worth mentioning that the failure of the latter singles and Fantastic Star (it stalled at #54 and came nowhere close to recouping its costs) hurt Marc badly, both personally and professionally. His autobiography acknowledges his drug issues weren’t much of a help when it came to making rational decisions, and he mocks himself by referring to the album as Fading Star. It wasn’t too long before the major label let him go. His response was to establish his own independent label……