in a world of his own
Forever the same……
Not knowing exactly when the phrase was coined, I’d guess that the title of the double album probably wasn’t invented until late in the recordings. But Soft Cell continued their uncanny knack of delivering songs and sounds which mirrored their current mental and psychological state. Unfortunately, when they arrived in New York in mid-1982 for their second prime album, there was no solid center, and the ecstatic team of the last five high-flying singles wasn’t home. Something just wasn’t quite right.
The pressure had been destroying any semblance of quality of life for both Marc and Dave. Tainted Love had been a gigantic success, and all five consecutive Soft Cell singles had hit the UK top five. Dave especially had been feeling at a loss, not enjoying live performance as much as Marc, essentially having very little to do away from writing and recording. And, like many in their position, they were feeling a little away from controlling their own destiny.
I had experienced such restiveness and would with other artists whose first efforts became their career highs. Despite the success attending my production effort for them, many would, in the madness of success and adulation, feel that they had little control and feel the need to assert themselves. For me, it became a repeating paradox that my big, honest effort to make a record in an artist’s own image would be resented. I would cease to be seen as a collaborator and supporter and be viewed as a controller, an undercover agent for the record company.
Thus it was on The Art Of Falling Apart. Soft Cell pursued their own salvation during the extensive recording sessions in New York for what was to turn out as a double album. The result seemed to me self-destructive, the album turning out, in retrospect, as monochromatic and sprawling compared with the economy and precision of the first. There was no cooperation, so I simply attended to duty and helped their more ambitious embrace of new instrumental sounds. They fenced themselves off defensively. A pity.
The earlier records had been blessed with a whimsical, playful and unmalicious approach to ordinary, compromised people getting life slightly wrong. Now, Marc’s light lyrical touch had leadened, with some words, such as in Numbers, becoming just plain nasty. On the main album, the twinkle seemed gone from the eye, the human song subjects sometimes becoming objects to despise rather than tweak.
The earlier recordings remain crystal clear in my memory as I write nearly 25 years later. I can barely remember anything about the sessions for this crucial album. Maybe we all let slip the memory of a bad experience. Maybe it’s just that they weren’t very inspired or interesting.
There were bright flashes of the old exuberance when the guard was down and they weren’t taking themselves too seriously. Martin is a monstrously over-the-top extravaganza after the horror film character. There was fun and laughter in the studio, for once. It’s A Mug’s Game, created as a B side on the second vinyl platter, is the old, hilarious Marc Almond stumbling through life’s mistakes and laughing at himself, his last terminal giggle before shutting down audibly right at the end of the track.
As part of the self-assertion, the group and manager Stevo insisted that the second single taken off the album be the unpleasant Numbers. The record company demurred, using expressions like ‘commercial suicide’ which just egged on the artists in their corner. Numbers was released to wide disinterest. In a classic display of lack of imagination, the record company had bundled the new single with a copy of Tainted Love. The contrast in attitude and spirit between the two tracks could not have been more poignant.
And your money sticks in the machine
This is a mug’s game
- MT June 28 2004
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