Hits and Pieces at the Roundhouse – a review (22 March 2017)


I’ve been a fan of Marc Almond and Soft Cell since 1981, when, like so many of my generation I saw Marc on Top of the Pops and was instantly enthralled by the exotic character before me. I didn’t “fancy” him per se, but he drew me in, and enticed me like no other. Thirty six years later his unquestionable charm, mystique and excellent repertoire continues to reel me in, like a moth to the flame. 

Tonight (22/3/17) is the first night of Marc’s mini tour to promote his new album of hits and “pieces”. The Hits, we already know, global successes which in some circles, define him. He is SO much more than just his global hits. The “pieces” being should’ve been hits, and could’ve been hits (and would’ve been hits, with the right record company backing). 

This show was definitely what I refer to as a “Tainted Love gig”. Don’t get me wrong, that’s no bad thing, and there’s something to be said for nostalgic familiarity, and knowing what you’re going to get. Just don’t ask me to wave an inflatable pink flamingo aloft and we’ll still be on speaking terms! 

For the record, my favourite kind of Marc Almond show is in an intimate venue such as Wiltons, or the Almedia, even the recent exclusive The Magic Show event which I was tremendously fortunate enough to attend (thanks again Kathryn). The type of shows where you can really feel connected to Marc and the set list is of his more ‘obscure’, lesser known and sometimes unheard of songs. It’s where he really comes into his own and you can physically feel, and well as hear, the emotional delivery of each track. The bright ‘Las Vegas’ neon lights of the commercialism of Tainted Love are a million miles away from these type of Marc Almond shows, but I digress…

However, tonight was all about the hits and nothing but the hits, and Marc dutifully doled them out one after another with his own unique brand of energy and enthusiasm. Starting with songs from his mid 90s album ‘Fantastic Star’ and working his way haphazardly through his immense back catalogue, we were treated to Soft Cell classics, Number 1 smashes, and songs which really deserved to do much better at the time they were released, than they did. 

Despite of (or because of) the fact I met Marc ten days ago at a HMV launch of Hits and Pieces (the album), I’d been looking forward to tonight in an extraordinary (stupid assed) way.   That night he’d been the consummate professional, politely asking each fan who to make the signature out to etc. When it was my turn I was thrilled to be greeted with a “Hi Ange, how are you?” from Marc, who kindly agreed to break the “one signed item only” rule for me (as a special favour for a friend) and also pose for a photo or two. He’s such a lovely man. 

There were tonnes of friends and acquaintances there tonight and seeing them all, away from the impersonal nature of social media, was fabulous. I look forward to that element of Marc’s shows as much as the show itself. They are “whole evening” experiences where I can immerse myself amongst friends. I can go to any Marc Almond show alone (and often do) and see dozens of people I know. Tonight I was accompanied by some really good friends who also love Marc, making the experience doubly special. 

Highlights for me was seeing Marc perform Soul Inside, and Memorabilia which was a complete surprise. Everyone I spoke to agreed it was an excellent gig. 

Hits and Pieces continues to tour, taking in Warrington, Perth, Buxton and York but not necessarily in that order! For more details go to http://www.marcalmond.co.uk or check out my “Marc Almond’s Fan” page on Facebook for any stray last minute ticket availability.

Hits and Pieces – The Best of Marc Almond & Soft Cell 

https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B01MTB6ZV8/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_DEN0ybK128JC9
Ange Chan is a poet and novelist. Her fourth poetry collection “Fame; What’s Your Name?” and her second novel “Baby, Can You Hear Me?” were both published in paperback and Kindle in 2016. Her third novel will be published in 2017.  

She regularly writes for the website We Are Cult, and the Doctor Who Appreciation Society’s fanzine ‘Celestial Toyroom’. 

The Wonder of Wondrous Wiltons – a poem

In 1828, when temperance was at its height

“The Prince of Denmark” in Graces Alley was hosting drunken nights

With sailors and sea harlots there

They caused such a terrible ‘mare 

In the palace of gin, and debauched nights of sin

Brought the neighbourhood to disrepair

The saloon of the Mahogany Bar  

Brought its clients from near and from far

Sea shanties were told, with secrets of old

Then John Wilton came in to get rid of the din

And a music hall built for the respectable folk

At the back of the buildings, right there

The sea-faring folk had since gone 

And Vaudeville was t’entertainment put on

The building renewed, and success soon ensued

In the “handsomest of pleasure rooms”

With barley twist column distinct, and stucco and gilding succinct 

The main part of the hall, didn’t change much at all

‘Twas Victorian glamour, in the east end of old London Town

Sailors, Mothers and Mermaids and all

Brought a livelier sort to the famed musical hall

Lancashire folk danced there in their clogs and Irish songs were brought from the bogs

Champagne Charlie topped bills and 

Marie Lloyd sang, with all her frills 

But fashions soon changed, and all music halls went to the dogs 

However…

Wiltons still stands in sweet majesty 

Hosting acts of the day, for us all to go see

Its proved it can endure and its faded grandeur 

Brings crowds of the 21st Century 

To watch Vaudeville and Burlesque cheekily

And musicians and artists now celebrate its history 

Enjoying a new Wiltons, which is ever so dear to

Our hearts and our minds, this special old theatre

A unique hidden treasure to find, if you don’t know its there you’ll go blind

But when find it, you do, you’ll stick just like glue

As you step into history, the ultimate mystery

Of why you didn’t find it before

Your heart will now sing and your soul will now bring

Your footsteps will return, time and again

To the wonder of wondrous Wiltons!

Ange Chan ©2016

A Revolutionary Spirit – Depeche Mode’s 14th studio album, reviewed

Depeche Mode have released their fourteenth studio album due to be released tomorrow on 17th March, following the recent release of the lead single “Where’s the Revolution?” which seemingly sets the tone for the reputedly political messages contained within the album. 

However it’s less about ‘revolution’ and more about ‘statement’, as Gahan explains “Spirit,” is less about insurrection than it is about information”.


Here’s my track by track summary:

The album opens with ‘Going Backwards’ which reintroduces the listener to that classic Depeche Mode sound. However the track isn’t the strong opener which the much anticipated album demands. 

‘Where’s the Revolution?’ follows and is again, instantly recognisable as a song from the Basildon crew. Don’t judge it on your first listen though; it’s most definitely a grower, although I still can’t get to grips with that terrible middle eight section!

‘Scum’ is a complete cacophony of layers and layers of sound. Quite frankly, it doesn’t entirely work for me. However in a live stadium situation, it might. Definitely the strongest contender for the worst track on the album. 

‘You Move’ has a muddy, heavy synth opener, which I could see as potentially the follow up single. Simple, catchy lyrics if slightly on the icky side. “I like the way you move your body” croons Gahan, “I like the way you move for me tonight”, repeatedly. Again, it’s probably best heard live rather than as an album track. He’ll send the crowd wild as he writhes to this, probably shirtless. However, unlike its bedfellows, ‘Cover Me’ is a track I couldn’t envisage in a live set. It starts off slow and eventually builds and builds. Definitely a classic Depeche Mode album track. 

‘Eternal’ is reminiscent of a movie soundtrack. Martin Gore flexes his vocals in this, and one other track on the album. He’s best suited to slower tracks so this one is perfect for him. However as the song develops, too many layers of sound are presented, making it difficult listening towards the end of the track. The execution of several tracks on the album by producer James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco fame, is questionable at best. I’m unsure of the effect he was aiming for but whatever it was, it mostly doesn’t work. 

‘Poison Heart’ is a song with lyrics concerning the inevitable break up of a relationship that’s become one-sided. ‘So Much Love’ is one of my initial favourites and has the potential to be a classic Depeche Mode track. The baseline has the same urgency as ‘A Question of Time’ and I could really see this being a single; a successful one, at that! 

‘Poorman’ has politically-motivated lyrics, which decry large corporations whilst the poor man suffers, and highlights the mismatch of wealth distribution in the world. It has a plinky plonky synth sound in the background that was also utilised on ‘My Little Universe’ on their previous album. It was irritating then, and it’s irritating now. 

‘No More (This Last Time)’ is another break-up song with melodies and lyrics. Nothing new here, but the familiarity of that classic Depeche Mode sound will surely delight many. 

Finally the album finishes with another Gore vocal led song called ‘Fail’. It has an easy melody which is like a comfortable pair of Depeche Mode slippers. 

All in all it’s a fair album which has been sounding better on each occasion I’ve played it, and it really should be given more credit than some fans are apportioning to it. However for me, it’s more a collection of individual tracks, which is not cohesive as an album offering. However, many of the tracks here are pure Depeche Mode which should delight many. 

They have cleverly held a mirror up to current society thinking, and produced an album for our times. The general bleak theme of hopelessness and everything and that indicates “the end” is somewhat inevitable, possibly indicating a certain degree of mortality, or possibly marking the end of an era that is Depeche Mode? Time will tell. 

I’ve got to mention the cover artwork on the album which is particularly uninspiring. It’s a stick man drawing of legs and flags, presumably on a protest march. God knows there’s enough to protest about at this point in history, however the music within doesn’t always reflect what I guess they’re trying to convey. 


It’s difficult to say which direction Depeche Mode are now moving into. Many of the songs on ‘Spirit’ appear to be harking back to the Depeche Mode of old, which is no bad thing. However this album won’t go down in history as being one of their better ones. Whether it’s actually the end of an era, remains to be seen. 

7/10

My expectations of this album, posted a week ago can to be read here 

https://vodkaangel22.wordpress.com/2017/03/09/a-revolutionary-spirit-expectations-of-depeche-modes-latest-offering/

Ange Chan is a poet and novelist. Her fourth poetry collection “Fame; What’s Your Name?” and her second novel “Baby, Can You Hear Me?” were both published in paperback and Kindle in 2016. Her third novel will be published in 2017. 

A Revolutionary Spirit – Expectations of Depeche Mode’s latest offering

In 1981 a new band came onto the music scene with an intriguing name which seemed to garner as much as discussion as the band themselves. Four smartly dressed teenagers with trendy haircuts and a catchy pop song called “See You” which graced the turntables of many a school disco. 

The band was of course Depeche Mode, a French term taken from a fashion magazine which directly translated into “fast fashion”. It was different to a lot of other band names from those early “new romantic” years and the innovation continued when, over the ensuing decades, Depeche Mode continued to produce challenging, thought-provoking and eminently likeable music, steadily gathering a solid audience of “devotee” fans. 

The high point of Depeche Mode’s career was the 1990 classic, “Violator”, which showcased their most commercially successful singles in “World in my Eyes”, the foot-stompingly fantastic “Personal Jesus” and “Enjoy the Silence”. The songs each seemed to possess that perfect mix of lyrics which had something to say, catchy harmonies and most of all, consistency. In addition to those singles being massive hits, the other album tracks ranged from the tenderly beautiful to political to romantic and yet still managed to retain a Depeche Mode branding throughout. In my opinion, “Violator” unarguably remains the pinnacle of their career. However, the only problem with pinnacles is that anything produced after that, will inevitably start to slide downhill.

The departure of Alan Wilder from the band proved to be somewhat of a turning point in the band’s fortunes. They continued as a three piece, with additional musicians brought into bolster up their sound, but it’s safe to say that Depeche Mode were never the same force again. 

Fast forward to the 21st century and there was now a significant gear change in the music which Depeche Mode were producing. “Playing the Angel” and “Sounds of the Universe” were both almost universally slated, despite, in my humble opinion, there being several great songs on both albums.  

Following their usual form of touring then going back into the studio for their next album offering, “Delta Machine” was hugely anticipated. With a distinctly bluesy guitar edge, it was a massive departure to their signature sound, which was essentially as a pioneering synth band. Were the band moving in a completely new direction to greater appeal to the American market where they have a strong foothold? Were they ironically falling into their own brand of music for the masses? It certainly seemed to be that way.  

Devotion for the band’s music amongst long-standing fans was now moving from a slight tear in the ether, into a chasm of Grand Canyon proportions. In the UK and Europe where Depeche Mode have just as strong a following as they do in the US, there seemed to be a certain unrest in the camp. So their latest offering “Spirit” was going to be the ultimate decider. 


The album is due for UK release on 17 March. There have been some spoilers posted to YouTube which sadly has only served to underline the concerns that the wavering fans had in the first place. Those links have since been removed due to breach of copyright but they were publically available for enough time for some fans to form a strong, and very negative, opinion. 

The lead single “Where’s the Revolution?” certainly left me feeling cold on my first listen. In my opinion it’s lazy both lyrically and musically, and containing the most irritating middle 8 section, which was repetitive and quite frankly, dull. The apathy oozing from the speakers was quite overwhelming. It was about as revolutionary as a dish of cold blancmange. 

I understand that the overall feel of the album is politically-charged, which is astutely apt for the frightening political landscape of our current times, however I found the single to be completely UNrevolutionary. If this is an indication of what is to follow for the album, then my expectations have been set decidedly low. Seemingly neither protest songs nor pop songs, the general gist of the album appears to fall in some kind of “no man’s land”, waiting for something significant to happen. 

I’ll be fully reviewing the album when it’s released in a week’s time. I will do my very best to listen without preconceptions or judgement until I’ve heard the entire thing for myself, despite what I’ve heard so far. Keeping an open mind isn’t going to be easy. At worst it will be a epitaph to the Depeche Mode of the last 37 years. At best, it will indeed turn out to be revolutionary. Watch this space…
Post-script: my review of the album can be viewed here 

https://vodkaangel22.wordpress.com/2017/03/16/a-revolutionary-spirit-depeche-modes-14th-studio-album-reviewed/
Ange Chan is a poet and novelist. Her fourth poetry collection “Fame; What’s Your Name?” and her second novel “Baby, Can You Hear Me?” were both published in paperback and Kindle in 2016. Her third novel will be published in 2017.