Give This Man An Oscar: The Wilde Side of Marc Almond

MARC ALMOND is very screwed up about being a pop star, which is what comes of hanging around Nick Cave and Genesis P. Orridge.

“I never watch Top Of The Pops“, he snaps. “I don’t have it in the house and I won’t have it in the house!”

To prove his point – that only in spite of himself is he is a pop-up pinup – Marc Almond has made possibly the most overblown record of his time.

“I don’t listen to pop music and I don’t follow the charts, I listen to film soundtracks and people who have very individual voices, who sing in a classical style, like Eartha Kitt and Scott Walker. Aside from bands like the Birthday Party and people like Jim [Foetus], who I think is a genius, I’m not interested in what’s going on.”

Anyone who saw Marc and Foetus go through their bacchanalian demolition of Suicide’s ‘Ghost Rider’ on Switch will know how far Marc is prepared to stray from the flexipop universe of the Top 30. His only regret is that the credits came up before he strangled the unfortunate Foetus with his microphone chord.

Unlike the hundred and one other electropop combos, Soft Cell – individually and together – play it decidedly unsafe. Who else would have picked a song like ‘Numbers’ for single release over ‘Loving You, Hating Me’ and borne the brunt of not being invited on TOTP even though the single spent two weeks in Top 30?

What is remarkable about Marc is that, ignoring the mass mockery of others, he continues to play in the shadows of lowlife at all. My feeling is that he really does perceive an alluring sadness in the life of “degenerates” and is not trying to titillate us.

Torment And Toreros, the new album by Marc And The Mambas, is neither exhibitionist or decadent, but it is neurotic melodrama of the psyche whose high-strung preoccupations verge on the grotesque. (As Wanda protested to the hero of Sacher-Masoch’s Venus In Furs, “your obsessions would be perfectly comprehensive if you weren’t so virtuous.”)

YES AI HAVE NO CORRIDAS

BULLFIGHTS STIR strange emotions and Marc’s record is positively racked by them. At once the most barbaric and most ceremonial of sports, the corrida has always been a spectacular magnet for art’s itinerant outcasts.

Michel Leiris in Manhood saw in its implicit sacrifice a coincidence of the Sacred and the Sexual. The full implication of this was revealed not in Hemingway but chapter ten of Georges Bataille’s Story Of The Eye, to which I can do no more than refer you: suffice to point out that among the customs which follow a bull’s death in the corrida, consumption of its genitals is not the least conspicuous.

Like Bataille’s, Marc Almond’s febrile sexuality is aroused by the danger and grandeur of the bullfight. He watches and is transformed, just as in Jacques Brel’s ‘The Bulls’ (the album’s third song), the grocery clerks turn into Don Juan.

The 90 unbearable minutes of Torment And Toreros are imbued with the glamorous horror of this spectacle. Emotional gore abounds. If ‘Black Heart’ is a ‘Torch’ re-enacted by Basque terrorists, if ‘Big Louise’ and ‘Guiltless’ signal in this general direction, nothing anticipates the strewn entrails of pain in ‘First Time’ or ‘(Your Love ls A) Lesion’. Here the bilious pathos of ‘Caroline Says’ becomes baroque self-flagellation, a squirming masochism of bad taste and hysteria whose four sides will leave you gasping for breath. Untitled was brave but this is Some Bizzare indeed.

“It’s not an overtly Spanish-influenced album. There’s just feelings from that music which creep in, various chord changes we’ve used. Things like the castanets in ‘The Bulls’ are used in a very sarcastic, almost cynical way. I’ve been collecting flamenco for a few years now, but I was very tentative doing this, because flamenco is something you’re born with, it’s there from birth. The gypsies don’t just decide one day, ‘Oh, I think I’ll learn flamenco’.

“The influence is more in the singing, because I love the way the Spanish sing. I mean, they don’t give a fuck, they just yell, just should it out straight from inside them.

“My favourites are a couple called Lola and Emmanuel, who I think are just fantastic. When we were over in Spain I was collecting her albums and happened to mention to our promoter that I loved Lola and Emmanuel, and later he phoned me and said he’d talked to Lola and that she’d really liked my voice and wanted to do something.

“I mean, I can’t imagine what form it’ll take – for a start, I can’t speak Spanish and they can’t speak English – but I’m incredibly flattered and, well, embarrassed, y’know, because it’s not like they need to do anything with me – in Spain, they’re really famous.”

WALTZ OF THE TORMENTED

VIOLINS AND tympani, bruises and chains, … Marc’s lurid catharsis reaches its crescendo in ‘Catch A Fallen Star’.

“She creams at the cash you might pay just to grope her … can you smell the herpes from the scum-sucking fucks that hang round the suckers at night?”

“The things on this record are very real to me. People think I get some secret thrill out of being dirty, but this is 1983, who do they think they’re kidding? When I was doing that, I felt it was necessary to call shit ‘shit’. I felt very angry and bitter, because the song was about what I don’t want to become, the things I know I’m falling into. It’s not self-righteous, it’s not an accusation, because I’m just as much a hypocrite as anyone else.

“I mean, I’m sorry, kids, if you’re gonna take this home and outrage your mother. I’m sorry if you can’t handle it, but this is the way that I feel. I’m not going to pander to my audience. I respect them. Kids these days aren’t naive. Some of the letters I get contain much more colourful language than anything in ‘Catch A Fallen Star’! My attitude is, have me in your living room on my terms.”

Why so much music?

“I just find I’m very prolific all the time. I can’t just sit back and relax. I have to be doing things. All the time. I get new ideas and things I’ve got to do. I plan these imaginary holidays all the time, but I never take them because something always comes up. If I had to go away, it would have to be somewhere I could use.”

So what is this music, this grand guignol, this flamboyant disease?

“I wanted the listener to feel exhausted by the end of it because a lot of the songs are about me, and extremely personal. When I write for Soft Cell, I tend to write in a more observing way. . . looking, documenting. Here I’ve been freer and I’ve prepared the music and just done the vocals straight off over the music, just working the melody line as I go along, feeling my way . . .

“I started working on it in an extremely low period, when my depressions were becoming really bad, and I thought the only way to deal with them was to use them positively. Side Two is the very low side, but as the album goes on, it gets more up, almost as though reaching for the light at the end of the tunnel, and that’s why I ended with Rodgers & Hammerstein, ‘Beat Out That Rhythm On A Drum’, just to sort of let it all out.”

Why is it that ‘Youth’ or ‘Say Hello’ move me more than ‘Lesion’?

“Soft Cell I think is more instantly accessible. I don’t feel this album is a first-listening thing. It’s the first time I’ve actually written music on my own, so there’s obvious naiveties, but that was important to me. This extends to Soft Cell, too.

“I’d really like Dave to sing on the next Soft Cell album. It’s great because he’s changed so much. At one time, we almost swapped. Like, I became very introverted, while Dave became more outgoing. It’s like this ‘quiet, shy’ persona had been forced on him and he was trapped by it. We’ve tried to bring our roles closer together.

“I think we definitely would have split if we hadn’t found these other outlets. By going off on individual tangents we’ve come much closer. The next single, ‘Soul Inside’, is really up, a ‘wild celebration’. . .”

The good things among these torments occur when Marc calms down, which in turn occurs on the songs he didn’t write, especially Peter Hammill’s ‘Vision’, and a piece written by string section The Venomettes called ‘Once Was’. Here pain really crosses the histrionic barrier and lodges in the listener’s heart. Here Marc is interpreting rather than confessing. Even his ‘Gloomy Sunday’, give or take the odd bum note, is admirably restrained.

Had he heard Lydia Lunch’s version before doing the song?

“Lydia’s was what inspired me to do it. I hate the Associates’ version, though I like the Associates. I did it to experiment with it, and the whole album was originally going to be like that – very empty, minimal – but over the course of six months, it developed into other things as it went along.”

The dominant acoustic instrumentation is like a conscious rejection of synthetics, of Soft Cell’s minimalism.

“Yeah, it’s like, for instance, I had this urge to use real drums – there’s only with drum machines. But even Dave now is not an electronic music at all. I just felt so lucky to have the string players, the Venomettes, for this record, because when we did ‘Big Louise’ we did it with Paul Buckmaster, who I think is fantastic, but we had this whole 23-piece thing, with all the Musician’s Union rules, whereas the Venomettes really were great and worked with the feel I wanted. Also, they’d develop my ideas and put in their own. Like, they wrote ‘Once Was’, which is one of my favourite songs on the album.”

THE TWILIGHT OF LOWLIFE

TORMENT AND Toreros is a grim circus of soul-baring, over-anxious to disturb and scream its confusion. “Not another twisted love!” he declaims, “that’s no way for a boy to behave!” Hammill gets it right on ‘Vision’: “Take my tongue, take my torment…”

Marc says he gets claustrophobic, and with music like this I’m not surprised. Life is not a cabaret, old chum.

“That cabaret side of me, maybe this is getting rid of that part of me and I’ll move on to something else. I’m still not removed enough from the album to took at it objectively, but it’s not like me saying, Oh, let’s have a jolly camp romp!

“I suppose you could say I am a drama queen! I always over-dramatise everything. It’s not a big act, it’s just how I am. I agree that the album lacks discipline: Dave’s my discipline.

“I’m scared stiff about the reviews. If I get bad reviews, it will put me into a depression. I put a lot of myself into it and, yes, I’m taking risks, but it’s just a way of expanding myself, branching out. It’s not like, here is my piece of brilliance; it’s just one stage. I’m not going to be high and mighty about it. If it’s hated, I just hope it’s hated constructively.”

At least with Marc Almond, there is no risk of losing that tension, that vital paradox: between warmth and pain, bitterness and love: between ‘Where The Heart Is’ on one hand and ‘Baby Doll’ on the other.

“I don’t observe rules or follow patterns, I just explore – whether it’s like ‘Soul Inside’, just a burst of energy, or ‘Baby Doll’, where I’m talking about feeding your arm.

“I’m never trying to be outrageous. It’s just that I only feel at home in the places people say you shouldn’t go.”

© Barney HoskynsNew Musical Express, 6 August 1983

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