Soft Cell's Non Stop Exotic Video Show Review
Soft Cell didn’t write “Tainted Love”: that honour goes to Gloria Jones, girlfriend of Marc Bolan and owner of the car he died in. But it’s fair to say that if any song sums up Soft Cell it’s this one. I’d even go so far as to call it a key single of the early 80s. It topped the UK charts and spent forty-three weeks in the American Hot 100, which remains a record to this day.
That certainly wasn’t a fashionable view at the time. People were keen to knock this synth/vocal duo, and Marc Almond in particular. If it wasn’t for Marc Almond’s overtly gay image – and it was a gay image redolent of leather and the back rooms of certain clubs, not draggy as with Boy George, and hence more threatening to uptight straight boys – it was his vocal style, which it’s fair to describe as “untrained”. I won’t dignify a certain urban legend with inclusion here, except to point out that it was a rumour that had been around since the 1970s, attached to Rod Stewart and David Bowie amongst others, before Almond was ever in the public eye. It was not cool to like Soft Cell, especially not in a Catholic boys’ school. But they soon gathered up a following, made up of gay men, misfit types of both sexes and all persuasions, and a substantial number of teenage girls. As for Almond’s vocals, pop and rock music usually valued feeling over technical prowess, and it’s that which the Soft Cell fanbase responded to.
Non-Stop Exotic Video Show collects together Soft Cell’s promo videos, the original compilation dating from 1982. The director was Tim Pope, videomaker of choice at the time to bands such as The Cure (he directed the cinema-release concert movie The Cure in Orange) and Siouxsie and the Banshees. His one non-music-related big screen film was a disaster, though: 1996’s The Crow: City of Angels. Given that the 1980s were the heyday of the glossy corporate video – think of the mini-epics featuring Duran Duran in all manner of foreign climes – there’s a tacky, low-rent quality to many of these promos that maintains their appeal more than twenty years later. Some of these videos are deliberately crudely lit and grainy and reminiscent of a home movie. But Soft Cell could still do camp: check out the “Tainted Love” video itself, with Almond in a toga and laurel leaves and David Ball in cricket whites. Redemption cover girl Eileen Daly and Mari Wilson make guest appearances. The videos are linked by short segments featuring Almond and Ball being self-deprecating in their very English way.
It’s easy to miss the warning which follows straight after Sanctuary’s ident, so I’ll repeat it here: this DVD contains some sequences involving flashing lights at strobe frequency.
Say Hello Wave Goodbye
Sanctuary’s all-regions release is presented on DVD in its original 4:3 ratio. As this was shot on video – analogue video at that – you can’t expect high-definition and you don’t get it. Progressive-scan displays (such as a PC monitor) probably make it look worse, but it’s full of the sort of artefacts you tend to find on old video: grain, blown-out contrasts, and a general softness. It’s not meant to look slick, quite the opposite, which is just as well as it doesn’t.
There are two sound options. There’s a 2.0 Stereo (non-surround) track which presumably replicates the sound of the original recordings. There’s also a remix in 5.1 which certainly surpasses it in clarity and brightness. However, it may be hard to get used to instrumentation coming from individual speakers and this track ultimately seems gimmicky. The subwoofer deals ably with the basslines.
For some reason there are subtitles in three languages but not English. They translate only the inter-song dialogue, not the lyrics. This isn’t unusual on a music DVD and is presumably due to copyright restrictions. There are thirteen chapter stops, one per song plus the end credits.
The version of the “notorious” video for “Sex Dwarf” is cut short, but the full-length song plays over the final credits, accompanied by some custom-made animation. The packaging lists this as an extra – it wasn’t on the original video release – but as it’s integrated into the main programme I haven’t listed it as such.
Needless to say, this DVD is for fans only, but there are plenty of people well disposed towards Almond, both in Soft Cell and his later solo career. Anyone curious about early 80s pop may wish to take a look as well.