September 22, 2017 Marc Almond – Shadows and Reflections (Album Review)
Don’t believe anyone, even if they are a journalist or a musicologist, who claims that there is no more good music these days. They surely are projecting their own inability to appreciate new music, either by old or new artists. They must be already old and jaded, or simply lazy and lacks the initiative to hunt for the countless albums being released almost weekly. After all, the radio and the rest of commercial media are not the only sources of music. To fall in this kind of chronocentric mentality is to be guilty of willful ignorance. It is an expression of unfair and unwarranted disrespect for the countless artists and songwriters who contribute to the world of music at large.
One of such artists deserving continued accolades is the prolific and classy Marc Almond, who catapulted to popularity in the 1980s as the singing half of Soft Cell. The English New Wave/Synthpop duo was famed for the chart-topping songs “Tainted Love,” “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye,” and “Kitchen Sink Drama.” However, despite the pair’s commercial success, the musically driven and creatively restless Almond still pursued other musical projects, who in 1984 consequently began a very productive solo career.
Born in July 1957, in Southport, Lancashire, England, Almond released his first solo album, Vermin in Ermine, in 1984. In the decades that followed, this grew into a twenty-one-strong studio discography—four more for the rest of the ’80s, highlighted by 1988’s The Stars We Are; five for the ’90s; four for the 2000s; and six for the 2010s—spawning a string of singles that included “The House Is Haunted by the Echo of Your Last Goodbye,” “Bitter Sweet,” “Tears Run Rings,” “A Lover Spurned,” and “Pleasure’s Wherever You Are.” Initially, Almond’s music followed the direction of New Wave and Synthpop, having been inspired by the Glam icons David Bowie and Marc Bolan. However, as time progressed, the once Performance Art college student Almond gravitated towards the glittery allure of Cabaret and Vaudeville, making his catalog diverse and colorful. After all, even in Soft Cell, such theatrical influence was already apparent.
Revisiting Almond’s music, one will realize that Almond has always been on a roll. In fact, he had just released his last album in 2015, the back-to-Synthpop-form The Velvet Trail. Then, after only two years, another one is forthcoming.
Slated to be released on September 22, 2017, via BMG, Almond’s twenty-first effort is titled Shadows and Reflections. This time, it finds the eclectic artist returning to his love for ’60s Vaudeville, Cabaret, and Orchestral Pop as he unleashes his takes on some of the beloved Torch songs of that decade. Taking its audience to an audiovisual experience, it opens with the short “Overture,” which serves as a perfect background as Almond slowly appears behind the curtain and then begins to peacock on the stage with the big, upbeat sound of the title-track.
Immediately, the flamboyant singer turns melodramatic with the soulful swing and waltz of Bill Fury’s “I’m Lost Without You” and The Young Rascals’ “How Can I Be Sure?” Then there is Tim Yuro’s “Something Bad on My Mind,” which recalls Almond’s 1989 UK Singles number one “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart.” Next are the sentimental “Blue on Blue,” a Burt Bacharach–Hal David composition; and the choppy, orchestrated, and slightly jazzy “I Know You Love Me Not” by Julie Driscoll.
After another interlude, the second part of Shadows and Reflections starts with the Baroque/Gothic Pop–inspired “From the Underground” by The Herd. Despite its new form, it will not be out of place on a playlist that includes originally ’60s Baroque Pop classics like “Walk Away, Renée” by The Left Banke, “Penny Lane” by The Beatles, and David Bowie’s “Love You Till Tuesday.” The ensuing dirge-like “Still I’m Sad,” originally by The Yardbirds, is a change of pace and mood—a bit ominous and haunting; it exudes distant echoes of Fun Boy Three’s “The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum,” Depeche Mode’s “A Question of Lust,” Siouxsie & the Banshees’ “Hall of Mirrors,” and Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” Almond then takes his listeners to his dimly lit world of balladry as he croons silkily with “Embers.”
The slightly Pasodoble rhythm of “Not for Me” and the slow tempo of “All Thoughts of Time” will make the lone listener misty-eyed as he sways into an inevitable trip to the dazzling Cabaret of Soft Cell of old. The penultimate track, “The Shadow of Your Smile” is certainly the most familiar of all the covers in the latest offering of the multidimensional Almond. Finally, the nostalgia-tripping artist closes his Shadows and Reflections with the heartbreaking “No One To Say Goodnight To.”
Shadows and Reflections may be a very personal album, but it serves as Almond’s postcard from his ’60s childhood to the new generation of music lovers. For this, it is not only a homage to some of the artists who influenced him but also a gift to the young ones whom he continues to either deliberately or inadvertently inspire. CrypticRock gives Shadows and Reflections 4 out of 5 stars.
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