Marc Almond: Royal Albert Hall, London

NIGHT IN SHINING AMOUR

SOMEONE ONCE told me that after any seven year interval, every cell in your body has been replaced by another one. I never believed them until yesterday, when I watched Soft Cell’s Non-Stop Exotic Video Show. Like, no way is that the same person! The skinny, carefree, shaggy-bobbed, eyelinered Soho sleaze-gnome of 1981 can’t possibly be related to the tattooed hedonist of ’86, or the solid, dinner-jacketed balladeer of ’92. Can he? The tattoos — prematurely green — that now turn his arms into those of a retired docker are deeply significant: both a no-turning-back denial of the way your mother brought you into the world, and a symbol of continuity. Marc Almond’s problem, with the “Twelve Years Of Tears” show, is to convince us that he is the same man. Some challenge.

When I walk in and see a Folies Bergere dancing girl strutting on the catwalk in a feather headdress, I fear the worst (Marc’s dancers are pneumatic to that surreal degree which transcends sexy and enters the realm of camp. And that’s just the boys). When she, uh, gets them out for the lads, I wonder if Almond, changing costumes backstage, will hear me if I scream “Please, Marc, don’t resort to unambiguous Las Vegas tack, it’s just so passé“. Then the stripper throws her hard-buttocked male consort to the ground and treads her stilettos all over his back. So there is a twist! That’s more like it.

Then HE appears, and the whole place just goes… well, no fans adore quite like Marc Almond’s Gutterhearts. He kisses every word onto their lips, and they suck them in greedily. Their respect for the silences in the skeletal, near-a capella rendition of Brel’s ‘If You Go Away’ makes it real edge-of-your-seat stuff, and is only broken when they can’t help an affectionate chuckle at one of Marc’s ultra-literal hand gestures. They holler the most intense lines (“Mother, things are getting better”; “We’ve got to get together before we fall apart”) of every song with life-or-death conviction. They throw him pink teddies. And (you guessed) that’s just the boys.

He deserves it. Marc Almond was just born to play the Royal Albert Hall, and boy, does he make the most of it. In the three hours between saying hello and waving goodbye, he camps it up like Ethel Merman, stamps his tiny heels and clicks invisible castanets like a flamenco dancer on speed, wears every colour of sequins in, er, the sequin catalogue, and belts them out like no one else this side of Tom Jones. I mean, come on: what a voice. Marc Almond is the pop Nick Cave. Both thrive on a certain ruined glamour, and a romanticism that grows less, not more, cynical with every passing year. Both inhabit self-created worlds (Cave: priests, donkeys, incest, whores; Almond: unmade beds, one-night stands, masturbation and, er, whores) that are easy to scorn from the outside. But once you’re in, critical perception is corroded beyond repair. Count me in. The man’s an entertainer.

And nobody does it better, whether taking his Hispanic period (‘Ruby Red’, ‘Stories Of Johnny’) on a piano-accompanied tightrope walk, overriding a band who can’t quite imitate Dave Ball’s nasty lo-fi synth crunches (‘Bedsitter’, ‘Torch’), twirling through a butt-shaking Hi-NRG ‘Jacky’ or wheeling out a full bow-tie-and-tails string orchestra (‘Days Of Pearly Spencer’, ‘Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart’). He brings genuine tears to the eyes with ‘Youth’ (a lament to lost innocence on a par with Japan’s ‘Ghosts’) and ‘What Makes A Man A Man’ (a homophobia victim’s touching tale). Almond takes tired old concepts like: romance, torment, loving, being hated, flamboyance, squalor, losing, winning, and losing again, and makes them marginally more important than breathing. Just when we think it’s safe to go home, when the house lights are actually up, the two teasing bleeps that preface ‘Tainted Love’ ring out. “You thought it was never going to come, didn’t you?” Oh Marc, you old tart!

All this and no ‘Sex Dwarf’. The boy’s a natural. The next century’s gonna need a Shirley Bassey, and I think I’ve found him.

© Simon PriceMelody Maker, 10 October 1992

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