Marc Almond’s ‘Stranger Things’ (3CD) reviewed

❉ No relation to the hit Netflix serial, James Collingwood on Cherry Red’s latest expanded Marc Almond reissue, his 11th solo album. 

To coincide with Marc Almond’s sixty-fifth (!) birthday, Cherry Red Records have recently re-released his 2001 solo album Stranger Things as an impressive new 3 CD set. Made in collaboration with Icelandic musician, multi-instrumentalist and composer Johann Johannsson this was Almond’s eleventh solo album and was released in the year that Soft Cell reformed.

Almond (raised in Southport and Leeds but infamously steeped in London nightlife) is enjoying a welcome resurgence at the moment with chart topping Northern Soul cover Tainted Love going viral during lockdown and with a recently released Soft Cell/ Pet Shop Boys collaboration. He still performs with Soft Cell and as a solo performer and is now old enough to enjoy the pleasure of having a pensioner’s free bus pass!

For this album the choice of Johann Johannsson as a co-collaborator was inspirational at the time. Now no longer with us (he died of an overdose in 2017) Johannsson later went on to be involved in soundtracking the films Sicario, Arrival and Blade Runner 2049 and provides a cinematic feel to the project. In an interview Almond stated that the influences on the album were a “mash up of Philip Glass, ‘70s music, Martin Denny, striptease soundtracks, burlesque and techno”.  Johannsson’s mixture of orchestral and electronic sounds give the album a distinctive feel and perfectly complement both the emotional power and the limits of Almond’s voice.

The first CD is the original album, and it starts with Glorious a great opening statement of a song that was released as a single at the time. Co-written with Johannsson and with its piano and synth introduction, overlapping vocal backing and its strong chorus this really deserved to have been a massive hit at the time.

Born To Cry the next song on the album is a sort of  Bond theme for down and outs and “losers” with a John Barry/Shirley Bassey influence spun on its head. Next up Come Out and Love In The Time Of Science are strong tracks which were originally recorded by Johannsson’s previous band Dip.

Under Your Wing is one of the strongest tracks on the album with a Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide/Kurt Weill vibe musically, and a cinematic description of a cityscape lyrically . You can imagine a film set in London or New York.  A live version and other alternative versions appear on the second and third CDs. It depicts a sort of shy “fledgling” version of a younger Almond. Moonbathe Skin is equally strong with its fascinating rhythmic backing and lyrics such as “every evening I’m following an echo/d’un chanson of Juliette Greco”.  Lights is an exuberant song that seems again to be about Almond reliving his youthful London nightlife adventures. Tantalise me is magnificent and I’m sad there isn’t a live version on the third disc. Dancer has a late sixties Spirit in the Sky-esque backing and the lyric “Are you a nail in my coffin/or a card up my sleeve.” After full out orchestral blasts on the other songs we end with the final instrumental version of Glorious (reprise). It’s good to finish an album with a good old fashioned “reprise” isn’t it!

The second CD includes some interesting stuff – new songs cover versions, demos and alternative versions of the songs on the first disc. The Beautiful Light of Madness has a rock feel to it and almost sounds like Oasis! There’s a magnificent cover of the Charles Aznavour song Our Love, My Love which also reoccurs on the third disc in a live version. There’s four (too many?)  versions of the quite scary but magnificent song Fur with its krautrock beat and serial killer vibes as well as a great cover version of Michel Polnareff‘s song Ame Caline (aka soul coaxing). 

Disc 2 also has other songs that don’t appear on the original album. Smoke which sounds as if it could come from West Side Story, the self-referential “sideshow” The Exhibitionist and Passion and Pain, a collaboration with Laska Omnia that seems to be influenced by Roxy Music’s In Every Dream Home A Heartache.

The third disc includes strangely subdued but impressive live versions of the Stranger Things songs as well as four that don’t appear on that album. Amo Vitam is a collaboration with German band Rosenstoltz, Total Eclipse is a Klaus Nomi cover, Dark Age Of Love  a collaboration with Mad Drivers and All My Angels Falling is another collaboration, this time with the Greek band Pyx-Lax.

Almond’s career seems to be thriving again and appealing to a new audience which is good news. An artist and performer who has always done interesting work – it’s amazing to think he’s 65 but I hope he’s enjoying that bus pass!

❉ Marc Almond: ‘Stranger Things’ 3CD Set (Physical/SFE SFE090T) was released on 26 May 2022 and is available from Cherry Red Records, RRP £18.99Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.

❉ Cherry Red Records have been releasing and reissuing the most innovative and independent thinking music since 1978. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site.

 James Collingwood is based in West Yorkshire and has been writing for a number of years. He currently also writes for the Bradford Review magazine for which he has conducted more than 30 interviews and has covered music, film and theatre.  His Twitter is @JamesCollingwo1

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