THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF MARC ALMOND (Parts 22-25)

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.

(22) Adored and Explored (7” edit) b/w The User b/w Loveless World (May 1995 – #25 in the UK charts)

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’.

(23) The Idol (Part 1) b/w Law of The Night (July 1995 – #44 in the UK charts)

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:-

mp3 : Marc Almond – Adored and Explored (Live at Radio One)
mp3 : Marc Almond – Bedsitter (Live at Radio One)

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.

(24) Child Star b/w The Edge of Heartbreak b/w Christmas In Vegas b/w My Guardian Angel (December 1995 – #41 in the UK charts)

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.

(25) Out There b/w Brilliant Creatures b/w Lie (February 1996 – #76 in the UK charts)

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……

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF MARC ALMOND (Part 21)

The one predictable thing about the solo career of Marc Almond is its utter unpredictability.

The Days of Pearly Spencer had given him a huge and unexpected hit in 1992.  Instead of capitalising on this, he took the decision that 1993 would be the year to release the album Absinthe, a collection of 12 tracks that had been worked on at various points in time between 1986 and 1989. The thing was, all of the tracks were covers of French songs or poems and none of them were released as singles – not that any of them would likely have bothered the charts as radio play would likely have been non-existent.

The other release in 1993 was 12 Years of Tears – Live at the Royal Albert Hall, in which 14 songs from the time with Soft Cell as well as the solo career were selected for inclusion for the first live album of his career.  The show, which had been of a very extravagant nature, had taken place on 30 September 1992, had been a near three-hour affair complete with band, orchestra, dancers and numerous costume changes.  It was also given a VHS release and later, in 2007, a DVD release.

One single was offered up:-

(21) What Makes a Man a Man (live) b/w Torch (live) (March 1993 – #60 in the UK charts)

It’s Marc’s take on a song written and made famous by Charles Aznavour in the 1970s, the sad and moving tale of a gay transvestite.

Torch, which had been a massive hit for Soft Cell, had been left off the parent album, so presumably the hope was fans would buy the single to complete any collection. The ploy didn’t work as it stalled at #60.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF MARC ALMOND (Parts 18-20)

My huge thanks to everyone who took the time to read the posting that’s been sitting on the blog for the past seven days…I’m especially grateful to those of you who added your own eloquent tributes to Tim.

This was the posting originally scheduled to appear and I had meant to place it into storage, but mistakenly back-posted it to 2012….which some of you may have picked up via notifications you’ve installed for all published posts.  In my defence, my mind was a bit elsewhere at the time.

Tenement Symphony, released in October 1991, is the last album from which any hit single was lifted – the fact, almost 30 years that Marc Almond can still command impressive numbers audience wise whenever he takes to the stage, is testament to the affection he is held by his legions of fans who have never given up on him, even though he has long been unfashionable.

One single was lifted just prior to the album’s release, and two more would follow:-

(18) Jacky b/w Deep Night (September 1991 – #17 in the UK charts)

I wrote about this particular single just last October, in a posting that also looked at the Scott Walker and Momus versions of the Jacques Brel number.  As I said at the time all versions are well worth a few minutes of your time for a listen but if pushed, I’d say I preferred Marc’s take on things for the bravado shown by him and the production/arrangement/mixing cohorts of Trevor Horn, Anne Dudley and Youth in throwing absolutely everything at it to turn it into a genuine camp classic which has stood the test of time.

Here’s a bonus with the 12″ bits of music

mp3 : Marc Almond – Jacky (extended)
mp3 : Marc Almond – Deep Night (extended)
mp3 : Marc Almond – Jacky (alpine mix)

All concerned would wait until the new year before the next 45.  The interesting thing was that the new single was one of three songs on the parent album that had been co-written with David Ball – the duo were more than happy to be working together again and indeed in later years would reform Soft Cell and embark on an extensive tour across Europe.

Tenement Symphony had come out on yet another new label, WEA, the biggest of all the majors and the budget stretched to enabling a number of studios to be used at different times and multiple producers – in the end, it became a work of two halves, with the first five songs being the work of the Soft Cell duo along with long-time solo collaborator  Billy McGee, and the other half put in the hands of the afore-mentioned Trevor Horn.  In later years, Marc would state that  the album’s concept was largely down to Rob Dickins, the head of WEA, and that he personally didn’t feel it truly reflected his artistic direction at that time, albeit he had enjoyed working with Horn.

As if to illustrate this, it was Horn’s version of what would become the next single which saw light of day rather than any take on it by its composers:-

(19) My Hand Over My Heart b/w Deadly Serenade (January 1992 – #33 in the UK charts)

It’s another one of those songs that, if it had been released at a different time than the period when Britpop was dying and Grunge was emerging, it would likely have been a very big hit as it is tailor-made for radio – it’s the sort of song that boy bands would have taken to #1.

And so, to the last time that Marc Almond bothered the charts:-

(20) The Days of Pearly Spencer b/w Bruises (April 1992 – #4 in the UK charts)

Another cover….and another massive hit.  I still find it bemusing that the record buying public, over the years, made a success out of the songs that Marc has chosen to reinterpret rather than his own compositions.  This one dates originally from 1967, by the Northern Irish singer-songwriter David McWilliams.  An acoustc ballad that got a fair bit of play on the pirate station Radio Caroline, especially give it was a b-side, but the newly emerging BBC Radio 1 didn’t give it or its a-side, Harlem Lady, much of a showing and so its author remained largely unknown until Marc’s later success with it.

mp3 : David McWilliams – The Days of Pearly Spencer

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF MARC ALMOND (Parts 15-17)

If this series was an in-depth look at the entire solo career, this week’s post would have mused on the December 1989 release of the album Jacques, on which Marc Almond offered up a 12-track tribute to Jacques Brel.  The album was recorded at different times over a four-year period and was issued by Rough Trade Records, but no singles were lifted from it. The extended time period for the recording meant that all of The Willing Sinners appeared at one stage or another.

The next 45 appeared in February 1990:-

(15) A Lover Spurned b/w Exotica Rose (February 1990 – #29 in the UK charts)

Emboldened by his chat success the previous year, Marc went for a blend of the accessible pop with the Latin sounds he had been exploring a few years earlier.  The record label obviously had high hopes for the single as they put it in the hands of uber-producer Stephen Street who really did polish it up into a five-minute opus of camp magnificence.  It deserved to be a bigger hit than it was….but it wasn’t helped by the fact that mischievous folk over here were suggesting that Marc was actually singing ‘A lesson learned from a lover’s sperm’

The spoken and bitter vocal in the middle is courtesy of actress Julie T Wallace who is probably best known for the part she played in the acclaimed TV series The Life and Loves of a She-Devil

A few months later, another single was released

(16) The Desperate Hours b/w The Gambler (May 1990 – #45 in the UK charts)

This has long been one of my favourites of the solo singles…..it makes great use of a French Horn, there’s great backing vocals and above else there’s a sensational flamenco guitar solo.

Sadly, the b-side is not a cover of the Kenny Rogers classic, but is instead a rather underwhelming track co-written by Marc and long-time collaborator Billy McGhee

The relative failure of this release cast a shadow over the release of the album….there certainly had been hopes and perhaps even an expectation that Marc would have been a staple of the singles chart over the summer of 1990 and so it was that the album Enchanted kind of sneaked out in August without too much fuss or fanfare. It turned out to be an album on which Annie Hogan didn’t feature thus bringing an end to a collaboration that stretched back to the Marc and the Mambas days the best part of a decade previously.

One more single was lifted from the album but given a special remix treatment in the hope of stirring interest

(17) Waifs and Strays (The Grid Mix) b/w Old Jack’s Charm (November 1990 – #88 in the UK charts)

The Grid was the new project under which Marc’s old sparring partner, Dave Ball, was recording.  You’ll see from the poor chart showing that the hoped for magic in reuniting the pair didn’t materialise….undeservedly in my opinion.

Couple of bonus tracks this week, lifted from the 12″ picture disc of the single that I have so much time for:-

mp3 : Marc Almond – The Desperate Hours (Flamenco Mix)
mp3 : Marc Almond – The Desperate Hours (Orchestral Version)

Next week will show, once again, that Marc Almond had bouncebackability in abundance.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF MARC ALMOND (Parts 11-14)

As mentioned last week, the poor sales of Mother Fist and Her Five Daughters led to Virgin Records dropping Marc Almond.  The aftermath also saw an end to The Willing Sinners as Martin McCarrick left to join Siouxsie and the Banshees but the good news was that both Annie Hogan, Steve Humphries and Billy McGee continued to work with Marc but now calling themselves La Magia.

It was Parlophone Records who decided to take a punt on Marc rediscovering a degree of success and they must have been fairly pleased with the outcome as the album, The Stars We Are, released in September 1988, turned out to be the best sellling of the solo years and one of its tracks, in a re-recorded form, provided a #1 single.

(11) Tears Run Rings b/w Everything I Wanted Love To Be (September 1988 – #26 in the UK charts)

(12) Bitter Sweet b/w King of The Fools (October 1988 – #40 in the UK charts)

(13) Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart (with Gene Pitney) (January 1989 – #1 in the UK charts)

(14) Only The Moment b/w Real Evil (April 1989 – #45 in the UK charts)

The Stars We Are was a return to mainstream form after the darkness of the previous works. Twenty-two different musicians are credited and that doesn’t include Gene Pitney as his work with Marc came after the album had been released.  There’s loads of strings, horns and soaring vocals and melodies.  Parlophone pushed the boat out on the promotional front and Marc responded positively with a number of televsion appearances to boost sales of Tears Run Rings, the lead off single.

There was a bit of disappointment that the follow-up 45, Bitter Sweet, stalled somewhat, but that was soon forgotten as January 1989 saw Marc return to the top of the charts again with his take of a song that had been a #5 hit in the UK for Gene Pitney back in 1967.  It had originally been recorded as a solo take for the album, but Gene had been so impressed with it that he contacted Marc’s management and suggested they have a go at it as a duet.  The single spent four weeks at the top of the charts….and its b-side was the album version:-

mp3 : Marc Almond – Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart

I don’t think it had originally been intended to go with a fourth single from the album, but as ever, record companies are keen to cash in on any unexpected success and thus Only The Moment was issued a few months later.

The b-sides to all these particular singles are very much in keeping with the more pop-orientated sound that Marc was pursuing at the time…..and indeed King of The Fools is one of those tracks that in a less fruitful period, might have actually made for an A-side, albeit one that would likely have stalled outside the Top 40 as it wasn’t quite distinctive enough.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF MARC ALMOND (Parts 8-10)

The third solo album was released in April 1987.

Again, it is attributed to Marc Almond and The Willing Sinners.  It’s full title is Mother Fist and Her Five Daughters although it is often shortened to Mother Fist.  The title was taken from a shorty story written by Truman Capote.  Of its 12 tracks, eight were fully written by Marc and the remaining four were credited jointly to him and Annie Hogan.

No cover versions on the album and there were three 45s lifted from it, all in advance of the album’s release:-

(8) Ruby Red b/w I’m Sick of You Tasting of Somebody Else (October 1986 – #47 in the UK charts)

(9) Melancholy Rose b/w Gyp The Blood (February 1987 – #71 in the UK charts)

(10) Mother Fist  b/w Two Sailors on The Beach b/w The Hustler (April 1987 – #93 in the UK charts)

The last of these was a 12″ only single.  The Hustler was also to be found on the parent album while Two Sailors… finds Marc and Annie setting an English translation of a poem by Frederico García Lorca to music.

It’s an album that confounded a few folk – it was his poorest selling solo album to date with perhaps it being just too ‘in your face’ in its sordidness – it certainly wasn’t tailor made for daytime listening.  Meanwhile, the promo videos, with all sorts of camp and gay imagery very much to the fore, were unlikely to appeal to the producers.

There’s a very glowing review from Ned Raggett at allmusic, who declares it ‘an all round triumph’, on the back of the following words:-

Following up both Stories and his fine covers EP A Woman’s Story, Almond took a turn for the more challenging on Mother Fist, to be rewarded with the loss of his contract and a search for a new label. Quite why that should have happened is all the more surprising when upon listening, it becomes clear that Mother Fist was and still is the best Almond album of original material to date.

With Hedges once again producing and the Willing Sinners still producing instrumental magic — the great work of Hogan on keyboards, McCarrick on cello and accordion, and McGee on bass and orchestrations simply can’t be overstated here — Almond created a generally sparer and more theatrical album that embraces classic European cabaret to wonderful effect, more so than any American or English “rock” album since Bowie’s Aladdin Sane or Lou Reed’s Berlin.

The b-sides were very much in the style of the album…and in Gyp The Blood, you get a seven minute plus epic which would have made for a great entry in the songs as short series series.

As the review indicates, it led to Virgin Records dropping the singer but as will be shown next week, he knew exactly how to bounce right back and put himself back into the mainstream.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF MARC ALMOND (Part 7)

In June 1986, Marc Almond, backed as usual by his Willing Sinners released a seven-track EP consisting entirely of cover versions. The lead track, which had originally been recorded in the mid 70s by Cher, having been penned by Nino Tempo, April Stephens and Phil Spector, was also released as a stand-alone 7″ single:-

mp3 : Marc Almond – A Woman’s Story

The full title of the EP was A Woman’s Story (Some Songs To Take To The Tomb – Compilation One). Sadly, Compilation Two was never released.

The single reached #41 in the charts. I haven’t heard the original, but going by Marc’s vocal delivery, I’m guessing it won’t be too dissimilar.  If it had been a hit, it would be a karaoke klassik…..

The b-side of the single was also taken from the EP and it’s one originally written and recorded by Lee Hazelwood:-

mp3 : Marc Almond – For One Moment

JC