Soft Cell have already retired once. The iconic 80s act, fronted by the enigmatic Marc Almond, played a finale show at London’s O2 in 2018, attracting a crowd of 20,000 to an extended send off. Then, once the lights came up, they changed their mind.
This year the Leeds act return with a sixth studio album – and second in 18 years – entitled ‘*Happiness Not Included’, and frontman Almond says this time it really is the end. “There was every intention that it would be the last show,” he recalls of the previous finale. “It felt the right time, honestly, and when I sang those songs it felt like a line being drawn under some of them, knowing I wouldn’t sing them again as Soft Cell.”
“But then the world changed with Covid, and in many ways we all changed and what we thought was a mapped out future suddenly wasn’t. I found myself with time on my hands and suddenly in a bizarre dystopian world of Covid and panic, real tragedy and sadness, coupled with everyone going crazy. I think Dave [Ball] and I thought, hell why not?”
So the pair started work on a new album. “Very early on we gave the album the working title of ‘Future Nostalgia’,” Almond says of the new record. “Of course, that would later, and unbeknownst at the time, be the title of Dua Lipa’s album (as odd as that seems, and annoying as it is), so the general theme I suppose was around that idea.”
“I think you deal with themes that are meaningful to you when you get to a certain age and find that some of the things you hoped or imagined have come true, but only in part – a kind of warped and disappointing view of the future. In the end, if indeed this is the end, there is a thread of optimism that comes with accepting who we are and where we are in the world. There is so much madness presently in the world that it is hard to process it.”
Tainted Love, released in 1981, remains Soft Cell’s most iconic track, one that’s been covered thoroughly over the years, though Almond isn’t a fan, particularly, of any of the efforts. “I don’t know, I don’t like any of them really,” he says. “Without our arrangement and the sound of it, then you kind of find a relatively average song in there that is hard to cover. Marilyn Manson’s and Coil’s versions are just too dark.” There have been odd moments that came from the hit, too. “I sang it once with The Pussycat Dolls – that was surreal,” Almond adds.
It’s crazy to think that the single came out 41 years ago, and Soft Cell are still going strong. “The audience have aged with me, and I with them,” Almond says of the live shows. “And at some point they brought their children to the shows, and now their children bring theirs.”
Despite the fresh output, though, closing the chapter on the band, though sounds imminent. “I don’t think there will be any more Soft Cell after this album,” Almond says. “It’s a proper last album. It all feels like it has come together and we are really happy with it.”
Instead, the frontman will be looking for more abstract sources of joy. “My hopes?,” he says. “Sunshine, peace of mind, kindness, sitting on The Ramblas watching the world go by, shedding material stuff, liberation from the relentless consumerism that lies to us, respecting all life, protecting all sentient creatures.” Noble aims, then, and firmly away from the stage.