❉ Ange Chan on a time of torment and Toreadors, tied up in one package by Cherry Red.
“Originally released on 7 August 1990, Enchanted was co-produced by Bob Kraushaar, whose desire for technical perfection sat somewhat at odds with Marc’s more organic style of working – Marc wanted ‘spontaneity, glamour, grit and passion’. In retrospect, Marc conceded that Bob’s highly polished production was just what the album needed, he just couldn’t appreciate that at the time.”
Enchanted was the sixth studio album to be released by Marc Almond during his solo career. At that point in time, Almond was hot on the heels of achieving his second Number One single, Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart with 1960s crooner, Gene Pitney. The mood was therefore justifiably optimistic, and this is reflected in the somewhat upbeat nature of Enchanted, albeit with the trademark Almond ‘sting in the tail’ lyrics. A collection of traditional love songs, it ain’t.
Marc’s previous band of musicians, formed from the embers of Marc and the Mambas and going on to form both The Willing Sinners and La Magia, had split by that point in time although original member Billy McGee features on Enchanted with a number of session musicians.
Originally released on 7 August 1990, Enchanted was recorded at a number of studios in London and was overseen by a trio of producers; A Lover Spurned‘s Stephen Hague, and Gary Maughan, both known for their work with the Pet Shop Boys, and Bob Kraushaar, with whom Marc had previously worked with on 1989’s The Stars We Are album.
Almond’s autobiography Tainted Life testifies that Kraushaar’s desire for technical perfection sat somewhat at odds with Marc’s more organic style of working – Marc wanted ‘spontaneity, glamour, grit and passion’. In retrospect, Marc conceded that Bob’s highly polished production was just what the album needed, he just couldn’t appreciate that at the time.
The album, which reached a lowly number #52 in the UK album charts, opens in a swirl of joy with Madame de la Luna, essentially a celebratory love song to the moon in its female form, and the various emotions emitted therein, from the mischievously wicked to being full of promise and joy as it radiates in the night sky. It’s an upbeat song which perfectly sets the mood for an album of counter-balances and enigmas.
Track two is Waifs and Strays wherein Almond recognises the beauty of the underdog, a theme which has continued throughout his song-writing career. It was a single release in November 1990 and only managed to stay in the charts for one week after its release, at number #88. Notwithstanding its poor commercial performance, it’s a fan favourite – not least because former Soft Cell bandmate Dave Ball had a significant input by remixing the extended version of the song with his band at the time, The Grid. That version is included in this collection on disc 2.
The album’s second single, Desperate Hours, has a Spanish feel which opens full of hope with the opening line “Tonight’s the night it said in the stars, that love would be round the first bend”. However, the next line shatters the positivity with a healthy touch of realism… “this world’s not made for me”. Lyrically the song is somewhat at odds with Almond’s private persona as he alludes in the song to a love affair with a woman. Always the one to keep the media guessing about his sexuality, the video features Almond clad in a matador’s finery, bull-fighting imagery, and sultry senoritas a-plenty.
The next song continues with the Spanish feel; Toreador in the Rain is also my favourite song in an album of favourite songs. It’s upbeat song cycle which is lyrically rich and paints a vivid picture saturated in Almond’s signature poetic romanticism, telling the tale of a young boy who dreams of being a toreador and eventually realises his dream as an adult, only to be gored to death ‘by the beast, the golden torero in an arena’.
Despite the grim twist in the tale, the musical accompaniment remains upbeat throughout and almost celebrates the work of the bull, whilst diminishing the hopes and childhood dreams of the toreador. Almond has sung about bulls in a similar way previously, covering Brel’s The Bulls which also celebrates the creature whilst simultaneously noting the demise of the protagonist.
Widow Weeds continues with the sting in the tail lyrics when a woman, wracked with grief, whose husband of twenty years, passes away and make no provision for her in his will. The grief turns to anger which immediately sets the woman free of her self-flagellation.
Single A Lover Spurned, produced by Stephen Hague, and with video imagery by Pierre and Gilles, portrays a seemingly happy marriage where the extra-marital affair of the husband sees his jilted lover plotting revenge for his wrongdoings and for leaving her once he’s had his bit of fun. The vocal interlude in the single was spoken by Julie T. Wallace, famous for her role in the Lives and Loves of a She Devil, which is very fitting given the subject of the song.
Death’s Diary is another track whose upbeat music betrays lyrics which suggest otherwise, as it catalogues the various ways in which the grim reaper can strike in a number of guises; a back street abortion of a raped woman, the plague encapsulating a city, a bird coated in an oil slick amongst other gruesome endings. It’s a song which reminds the listener that “there’s room in my diary for you, my friend.” Delivering the message of the painful reality, that no-one knows when their number is up. Not as grim musically as the lyrics may suggest, but delivering the harsh realism of life with no holds barred.
The Sea Still Sings is the only song of two on the long-player which is more melancholy in tone, where Almond reflects on the vast body of water which is the sea. He sings of its majesty in vastness, stillness and serenity, feminising the sea as a gentle creature ‘on her shoreline a necklace of feather and bone’, through to its anger, ferocity and unrelenting rage claiming sailors for its’ own and drowning people asleep in their homes. Captivating strings accompanying the majesty which the songs deserves. It really is quite something and tugs at your emotions to and fro, finishing the song in a watery end.
The Carnival of Life lifts the musical mood again and celebrates all things a colourful, joyful carnival has to offer – Desire, Love, Mystery and Magic! Accordions accompany the vocals, which gives the song an old-faded glamour feeling, and lyrically entice the listener to step forward into this seemingly dream-like state which is fixed in the realms of reality and the possibility of engaging with what life has to offer, in all its various forms. It’s just there for the taking like delicious chocolates and sweets in Willy Wonka’s factory where Almond plays the role of the enticer. The feeling of being lost in the moment on a merry-go-round when the sound, colour and smells are intoxicatingly all-embracing and you are lost in the moment.
The album’s last track (but not the last track on the re-issued version) is fan favourite Orpheus in Red Velvet, the second soul-searchingly reflective song on the album. For many years I couldn’t see the appeal of this song, initially viewing it as too long and too miserable. However, I can now listen to the song and appreciate it for what it is; an epic ballad of searingly deep beauty. Drenched in all the mysticism of Marrakesh, evoking souks heavy with the fog of hashish and perfume in the air, and the necessity of experiencing pain and misery so you can appreciate the beauty in the world all the more clearly.
The CD continues where the original album did not, in the form of all the B-sides of the released singles including Exotica Rose, The Gambler, Old Jack’s Charm, The Libertine’s Dream, City of Night (inspired by the John Rechy book of the same name), and the Orchestral version of The Desperate Hours. A lot of these tracks can only be found together on the sought-after Treasure Box CD so it’s a particular joy to see them placed within this collection, alongside their counterparts of the era.
Disc 2 of the set includes demos and mixes of all of the songs on the album including the aforementioned mixes of Waifs and Strays by The Grid (aka Dave Ball). The Flamenco Mix and the 12” vocal remix of The Desperate Hours are also welcome additions. Meanwhile, Disc 3 is a DVD of promotional videos for the three singles released from the album, namely A Lover Spurned, The Desperate Hours and Waifs and Strays. Once more, it is pleasing to see them included with their counterparts of this era in Almond’s career, tied up in one package.
The album’s cover artwork is by French artists Pierre et Giles, whose aesthetic fits the content of the album perfectly. Almond posed for the artists on a number of occasions, and they designed the album’s singles’ picture sleeves, producing such works of art as The Absinthe Drinker and Le Diable (The Devil), as well as the fan-only CD single cover of Marc’s duet with French singer Marie France.
This re-issue of Enchanted will make a welcome addition to any fan’s collection, placing the complete work of that era in his career in one convenient package which also contains a glossy booklet accompanying the 2CD/1DVD set. This is one of Almond’s better albums showcasing his songwriting and vocal talents to best effect. A highly recommended buy.
❉ Marc Almond: ‘Enchanted’ (SFE QSFE086T) expanded and reissued on Double Vinyl and as a 2CD/1DVD set released June 25, 2021 by Cherry Records, RRP £19.99. CLICK HERE to order from Cherry Red.
❉ Ange Chan is a freelance writer, having produced two novels and six volumes of poetry. She was also prolific contributor in the anthology collection Me and the Starman, (now available by Cult Ink on Amazon) and is a lifelong lover of music, having first been published in the 1980s music press. As well as being a frequent contributor to the pop culture website We Are Cult, she is working on her long-standing third novel Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots.