In the mid 20th century Aldous Huxley warned us of a dystopian future in the 1932 novel Brave New World, while George Orwell also outlined such warnings in the 1949 novel 1984. Both highly influential pieces of literature, while we are floating around in the year 2022, the real question is, were they right? That all depends on who you ask, but if you take a moment to disconnect from your devices, you can see the truth is in reality.
Which leads us to the new album *Happiness Not Included from ’80s hitmaker Soft Cell. Due out on May 6, 2022, you are probably thinking what does bleak dystopian worlds have to do with the the duo that brought us one of the big ’80s hit, “Tainted Love,” or such unforgettable songs like “Sex Dwarf?” Well, everything, and soon you will find out why.
For those of you which do not recall, Soft Cell is made up of Vocalist Marc Almond and Instrumentalist David Ball. Together, as Soft Cell, they became pioneers in the Synth-pop world…and we are talking about much more than “Tainted Love.” There sound was dark, moody, sensual, and highly influential. Unfortunately they dissolved in 1984 after the release of their album This Last Night in Sodom, and it is a shame too, because they were unique. Sure there have been reunions here and there, and each member has done some really great stuff solo, but did the idea of a new Soft Cell album ever cross even the most dedicated fan’s mind? Probably not, but here we are preparing for it twenty long years after Soft Cell’s last album, 2000’s Cruelty Without Beauty.
As mentioned, while Soft Cell has mostly been dormant forever, Ball and Almond have not. Ball has produced and released some of his own music, while Almond has been quite prolific as a recording artist. Now they dust off Soft Cell yet again for *Happiness Not Included, a new 12 track album that is really something to look into. In many cases artists reunite to record new music, and in truth, a lot of the time it is swing and miss. Leave it to trying to be too contemporary or simply not truly having their hearts in it, whatever it might be, it happens a lot. This is absolutely not the case with Soft Cell’s resurrection because these songs are thoughtful, well-composed, and true to who the duo are. Furthermore, they are not shiny or pumped up on happy pills, but instead they are provocative, free-thinking, and on the outside fringes of societal conformity.
With real subject manner that is at any times pretty dark, it is also not to say the songs of *Happiness Not Included are downbeat. It is really quite the contrary, because each song has a strong beats, colorful synthesizers, and well-placed spoken sound samples around Almond’s unmistakable voice. This is exemplified right from the get-go with “Happy Happy,” a track that could be discussed in a separate essay due to the striking context. Quickly summarizing it, “Happy Happy” confronts the sad, complex, soulless world we have created and continue to sink into. This is also the case with “Heart Like Chernobyl” which reflects the culture of fear, while the title-track “,Happiness Not Included,” talks about the delusion of erasing things we do not like or agree with to re-write history.
Featuring a sea of deep thoughtful topics amidst it all, other stand out moments on *Happiness Not Included include reflections of the past with “Polaroid,” the Darkwave vibes of “Bruises on My Illusions,” a collaboration with Pet Shop Boys for the escapist themed “Purple Zone,” the irresistible dance cut “Nostalgia Machine,” and the harsher EDM drive of “Nighthawks.” And then there is also “I’m Not A Friend of God,” the perfect anthem for the disenfranchised, “Tranquiliser” screaming for some originality in the modern grey world, and a fitting final goodbye in the “New Eden.” Is there Eden? Are we looking in vain, or were we already here, and ended up just destroying it all?
Overall *Happiness Not Included possesses a very heavy climate amidst the lyrics. You can tell that Almond is a bit anti-establishment and that is applauded when everywhere you turn nowadays you are seeing conformity blanketing the globe. The truth is Almond is probably not alone in his feelings, because there are many more who feel and see what he does. Beyond the lyrics, the music is also top notch; it is modern enough, yet not too over the top…it is has just the right balance of classic Soft Cell. An excellent return from Soft Cell, and highly recommended, Cryptic Rock gives *Happiness Not Included 5 out of 5 stars.