THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF MARC ALMOND (Part 35-40)

And so to the last of this run through of the solo singles issued over the past 35 years by Marc Almond. One thing for sure, you can never accuse him of churning out the same old stuff, time after time…..

(35) Scar
(36) Pleasure’s Wherever You Are
(37) Bad To Me
(38) Demon Lover

(All taken from the 2015 album, The Velvet Trail)

The Velvet Trail is the twentieth solo studio album by the British singer/songwriter Marc Almond. It was released by Strike Force Entertainment / Cherry Red Records on 9 March 2015.

The Velvet Trail is Almond’s first album of original material since Varieté in 2010. It was produced by Christopher Braide and features a duet with Beth Ditto of indie rock band Gossip on the track “When the Comet Comes”.

Almond had previously stated that he would no longer record albums of original material following Varieté, calling that album “a kind of swansong”.He subsequently recorded a number of albums outside of the pop genre which mostly featured songs written by others. During this time he was approached by Braide, known for his work with pop artists such as Lana Del Rey, David Guetta and Britney Spears, who urged Almond to make “the ultimate Marc Almond album”Braide was a longtime fan of Almond and had in fact worked with Almond before, unbeknownst at that point to the singer. Almond explained the situation to Simon Price of The Quietus, stating “it was only afterwards that I realised where I knew Chris Braide from: he’d sung backing vocals on the Soft Cell reunion album Cruelty Without Beauty, and I’d passed him in the corridor”. Braide lured Almond back into songwriting by sending him three instrumental tracks, “hoping to change his mind about retirement”, a plan that worked when “all three were met with resounding enthusiasm”. They continued to work in this manner until the album was completed.

(39) A Kind Of Love (from the 2017 album, Hits and Pieces)

Hits and Pieces was a 35-track compilation of singles covering his entire career, and included Soft Cell hits and collaborations. A Kind Of Love was a new track, one which has been described as “three effortlessly breezy minutes that hint at Almond’s past the ‘light summery psychedelic sounds’ on that mid-60s transistor radio, the Northern soul scene that inspired Soft Cell to cover Tainted Love and What! without really sounding much like anything Marc Almond has recorded before.”

(40) How Can I Be Sure (from the 2017 album, Shadows and Reflections)

From The Line of Best Fit website:-

A title like Shadows and Reflections might make this album sound like a contemplative take on an illustrious three decades for synth pop pioneer Marc Almond, but it is certainly not a retrospective.

Recent success with his Hits and Pieces took care of previously released material; Shadows and Reflections is pure Almond, back on form and seemingly loving every moment. In fact, his new LP demonstrates that despite celebrating his 60th year in 2017, Almond has lost none of his heart stopping irony or youthful dramatic exuberance for mining 1960s back catalogues to create an astonishingly contemporary sound.

The songs on Shadows and Reflections were written or recorded by some of the most influential names in music over the last 50 years; veritable pop royalty including the likes of Burt Bacharach, The Action, The Yardbirds, Bobby Darlin, Julie Driscoll, Billy Fury and the Young Rascals. This impressive list alone stands testament to the reach and considerable influence Almond still wields after more than 30 years in the music industry.

Almond has never been one to shy away from theatrics, and so Shadows and Reflections is a showgirl of an album with sardonic delight bursting from under the petticoats of each baroque-styled pop song. As well as anthemic favourites such as Young Rascal’s “How Can I Be Sure” and gothic pop The Herd’s “From The Underworld” there are also new original compositions that provide “Overture” and “Interlude” to the performance.

When the curtain closes with yet another Marc Almond original “No One to Say Goodnight To” – composed and orchestrated by long-time collaborator John Harle – the dream is over and the tears can begin. For ultimately, in true Almond fashion, this musical nod to 1960’s Italian cinema is as much tragedy as comedy. The real tragedy however would be not to check it out.

And that final line is what I hope some of you will have been doing over the past few months of this series. Marc Almond is, very much, someone who should be in all your record collections and to a greater extent than you likely have.

My huge thanks to those of you who have dropped in to leave comments during this particular series – and yes, Echorich, there were times when I felt I was writing solely for your pleasure but that in itself was something of an honour and far from a chore.

Next up for the Sunday spotlight????  Ah…..you’ll need to tune in next week to find out…..

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF MARC ALMOND (Part 29-34)

The next two weeks will bring an end to this particular series.

I lost track of Marc Almond‘s career at the turn of the century with Open All Night being the last of his music that I bought at the time of release.  I’ve looked things up and to my surprise, have learned that he has released a further 14 albums this century (taking the total to 24) and, according to wiki, there have been 12 singles in the period 2001-2017, none of which charted.

I’ve tried my best to track down each of the singles, but obviously I don’t have the b-sides.  I’m also being lazy but doing some cut’n’pasting from wiki for the background info:-

(29) Glorious (from the 2001 album, Stranger Things)

Stranger Things is the eleventh solo studio album by the British singer/songwriter Marc Almond. It was released by Blue Star Music, in conjunction with XIII BIS Records, on 18 June 2001.

According to an article in Billboard magazine, the sound of Stranger Things “finds a middle ground between the spare gothic synth-pop of Open All Night and the orchestral grandeur of 1991’s Tenement Symphony. Almond employed the services of Jóhann Jóhannsson, Icelandic multi-instrumentalist, composer and producer, to produce the album. Jóhannsson also plays most of the instruments, with some assistance from other musicians from Iceland, and is responsible for many of the arrangements.

(30) Gone But Not Forgotten (from the 2003 album, Heart On Snow)

Heart on Snow is the twelfth solo studio album by the British singer/songwriter Marc Almond. It was released by Blue Star Music, in conjunction with XIII BIS Records, on 21 October 2003.

An article by the BBC describes how Almond “went to St Petersburg to interpret traditional Russian romance songs” to make what “may have become his most ambitious album so far”. Almond mostly sang cover versions of traditional Russian songs, including a number from the Russian romance canon, and collaborated with a number of Russian artists on the album, such as Alla Bayanova and Lyudmila Zykina.

(31) I Close My Eyes And Count To Ten (from the 2007 album, Stardom Road)

Stardom Road is the thirteenth solo studio album by the British singer/songwriter Marc Almond. It was released by Sanctuary Records on 4 June 2007.

Stardom Road was Almond’s first new album after his involvement in a near-fatal traffic accident in October 2004. It is an album composed mostly of cover versions, a fact borne out of necessity as Almond found himself unable to write following the accident. Almond told Time Out that the album is intended as “a trip down memory lane, a musical journey from the 1950s to where he finds himself today”.

The album features collaborations with Sarah Cracknell, Antony Hegarty and Jools Holland, with some of the tracks also featuring members of Jools Holland’s Rhythm and Blues Orchestra.

(NB : The single features the Saint Etienne chanteuse…..)

(32) Gabriel b/w The Lunatic Lover (from the 2011 album, Feasting With Panthers)

Feasting with Panthers is the sixteenth solo studio album by the British singer/songwriter Marc Almond. The album is credited to Almond and Michael Cashmore, of Current 93 and Nature and Organisation, with both given equal billing. The album was released by Strike Force Entertainment, part of Cherry Red Records, on 30 May 2011.

Marc Almond first worked with Michael Cashmore when Almond contributed guest vocals to the Current 93 album Black Ships Ate the Sky. They next collaborated as Marc Almond & Michael Cashmore for the EP Gabriel and the Lunatic Lover in 2008 and continued to occasionally work together until they completed Feasting with Panthers. The album is entirely composed of poetry set to music and was produced with both artists separate at all times with music and vocals being sent back and forth. The Guardian describes the album as “a sumptuous piano-driven collaboration with Michael Cashmore, featuring songs derived from the poetry of Jean Cocteau, Gérard de Nerval and Jean Genet”, which Almond in the same article calls “decadent poetry translated by Jeremy Reed.

(NB : The album was released in 2011, but the single pre-dated it somewhat, being issued as far back as 2008)

(33) Nijinsky Heart (from the 2010 album, Varieté)

Varieté is the fifteenth studio album by the British singer/songwriter Marc Almond. It was released on 7 June 2010 through Strike Force Entertainment, part of Cherry Red Records.

Varieté marks Almond’s 30th year as a recording artist. It is his first album of original material in nine years. At the time of its release, Almond himself stated it would be his final album of original material as he had increasingly become more interested in recording pre-existing songs (as many of his covers albums have showcased), but this would prove to be untrue and he went on to record further original material afterwards. Much of it is self-produced and co-written with longtime collaborators Neal Whitmore and Martin Watkins.

(34) Burn Bright b/w The Dancing Marquis (from the 2014 album, The Dancing Marquis)

The Dancing Marquis is the eighteenth solo studio album by the British singer/songwriter Marc Almond. It was released by Strike Force Entertainment / Cherry Red Records on 16 June 2014.

The Dancing Marquis compiles the songs from the limited edition 7″ vinyl EPs Burn Bright and Tasmanian Tiger together with two new tracks and two remixes. The album features guest appearances from Jarvis Cocker and Carl Barât, and some of the tracks were produced by Tony Visconti.

JC

THE SINGULAR ADVENTURES OF MARC ALMOND (Part 26-28)

Open All Night, released in March 1999, was the tenth solo studio to be released by Marc Almond. It was on Blue Star Music, a new indie label that he himself had founded and on which all his UK releases would appear for the next decade

It’s a fascinating album with a couple of guest contributions, not least from The Creatures (aka Siouxsie Sioux and Budgie), and in songwriting terms was a continuation of the partnership forged with Neal X (aka Neal Whitmore) on Fantastic Star.

Some six months prior to the album, Marc had issued a single on Echo Records, a subsidiary of major label Chrysalis. I’m assuming both parties were testing each other out and decided there would be no point in any long term relationship, for it proved to be his only release for the label.

(26) Black Kiss b/w Satan’s Child b/w Black Kiss (Live at The Almeida) (October 1998 – #84 in the UK charts)

I think it’s worth giving you Ned Raggett‘s review of this single from the All Music website:-

Though the only single released via his abortive deal with Echo Records, “Black Kiss” proved to be the signal of Almond’s full artistic renaissance. The first offering from what would become Open All Night, “Black Kiss” blends spare, jungle-touched production with spooky, Brazilian-derived music and vibes (heightened by the inclusion of Henrique da Silva’s muffled backing vocals). It’s a magnificent performance from Almond and his band both, continuing his night-prowling lyrical vibe with surprising, intriguing new results. A live version also appears, with da Silva briefly explaining at Almond’s prompting the voodoo-derived background of the mysterious “queen of the night” who figures in the song. A separate stand-alone track also crops up which surfaced on Open All Night’s American release — “Satan’s Child,” a finger-snapping, brassy number that finds Almond tackling his Eartha Kitt/Vegas cabaret side with a tech-sharp edge. It’s not quite Foetus, but it’s a calmer kissing cousin.

The move to a self-financed indie brought to an end the idea of Marc Almond being someone who would bother the singles charts given the costs involved in issuing, promoting and hyping any such releases, but two tracks from Open All Night were nevertheless issued, one of which accompanied the album and the other much later in the year.

(27) Tragedy (Take A Look and See) b/w Beautiful Losers (March 1999 – did not chart)

(28) My Love b/w Threat of Love b/w One Big Soul (October 1999 – did not chart)

The former is a slow-paced number at which Marc tends to excel, although this one has a bit of a pop-tune feel rather than it having the kitchen sink thrown at it….it’s almost the sort of thing that boy bands have hits with.  The b-side is a blend of trip-hop and pop and the fact that it didn’t make the final cut for the album just highlights how much of a good listen it is…..it certainly shouldn’t have been the monumental flop it turned out, not even cracking the Top 100 in the UK.

The latter is a great listen.  The lead track could well have been a tune composed by Beck with Marc adding a lovely camp lyric on top.  The first of the b-sides is the album track on which The Creatures guested, and it’s every bit as wonderful as you’d hope and Almond/Sioux collaboration would sound.  The final track is a happy upbeat number, and again it’s a bit of a mystery as to why it was left off the parent album.

JC

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