Beauty and the Beast: Marc Almond: Enchanted (Some Bizzare) ***½

SO IT SEEMS the men in black have changed their colour to red this year. After Nick Cave’s heaven scented Good Son, the romantic trickser Almond responds by sharing his cover with a mermaid and singing the spells of the moon.

Yet, whereas Cave’s epistle is a million miles from his shattering musical past, Almond winks beckoningly back to his. The flugelhorn that introduces ‘Madame De La Luna’ is enough to transport the listener back to the black mischief that was Soft Cell.

The feeling lasts for a moment only, but little twinges of remembrence weave in and out of Enchanted; the opening synth on ‘Waifs And Strays’ takes a fleeting glance at ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’; the obsession and revenge of ‘A Lover Spurned’ retells ‘My Secret Life’ almost ten years later.

But there is something missing from Enchanted, an elusive, exotic ingredient that made ’88’s The Stars We Are pure smoky, sparkly magic. And I would more then hazard a guess that it left in the form of his old writing partner Annie Hogan.

Almond’s sense of beauty and cruelty, cabaret and peversity is never quite mirrored by the music on Enchanted the way it was when Hogan had her hand in its making. While his lyrics remain superb, his vocals as (snake) charming and velvet soft as ever, without her intuitive understanding of him he lets slip into melodrama, self indulgence, and perhaps too these traces of his past, all too frequently.

The album looses momentum after the beguiling ‘Desperate Hours’, into the cluttered ‘Toreador In The Rain’ and the overlong ‘Widow Weeds’.

The wicked single, ‘A Lover Spurned’, claims back the bittersweet drama for it’s three-minute span, then the Spanish salsa of ‘Death’s Diary’ and the throwaway tack of ‘Carnival Of Life’ come on as pure stage pieces that sound uncomfortable as recordings.

Still, true to form. Almond has a complete show stopper for the ending. ‘Orpheus In Red Velvet’ seduces you down a snake-like path into the underworld, which you follow, mesmerised.

“Like velvet was my valentine,” the singer croons, crooks an eyebrow and disappears into flames, every inch the witch Maleficent from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty. Maybe next time he’ll get the make up right, and become the Devil himself.

© Cathi UnsworthSounds, 9 June 1990

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