It’s spring, a time of renewal; the siren song of Mister Softee trucks ringing through streets all over the world. Step up for a soft-serve served up by…Soft Cell’s Marc Almond?
In an absolutely fabulous collaboration, Soft Cell (Almond and producer/instrumentalist Dave Ball) have teamed up with none other than fellow synthpop legends Pet Shop Boys to collaborate on the new single “Purple Zone”, one of the songs on *Happiness Not Included, due out May 6th.
Both lamentation of world affairs and an observation of the constant regeneration of self, “Purple Zone” already has the hallmarks of a bona fide LGTBQ dance anthem.
The charming, wry video, directed by Yassa Khan, stars the bands as servers in a pub and an ice cream truck, ruminating upon the difficulty of life in the modern world. The video cuts between the performers, and a cross-section of unique individuals. We see beauty in both the young and the aging populace, all grappling with various forms of identity and self-expression at different stages of life. It’s a lovely commentary on the passage of time: one commonality the generations all share is a love of food, drink, and public ritual: be it having a refreshing street cone or a draught of Guinness at a pub.
Dave Ball and Marc Almond started Soft Cell as students at Leeds Polytechnic in 1977, where Almond was majoring in performance art (mentored by Frank Tovey, aka Fad Gadget). Soft Cell quickly shot up to fame, and mild infamy, in the very early 80s, starting with their debut tour de force, Non Stop Erotic Cabaret. Still fresh out of the Leeds performance art scene at that point, Soft Cell shocked the British public with their flagrant sexual fluidity, BDSM imagery, and of course…the legendary banned Sex Dwarf video, starring a cast of nude transexual sex workers with chainsaws, maggoty meat, and a lot of leather harnesses. That is what makes the wholesomeness of the video for Purple Zone so remarkable: once Marc Almond himself was one of those art school iconoclasts, now he’s depicted as serenely playing pub dominoes with Neil Tennant (perhaps a nod to Domino Dancing?). The video also depicts gentle observations of LGBTQ people who survived the AIDS crisis of the 80s and 90s, now finding themselves living in a world paradoxically more and less accepting of individuality. It’s a touching performance.
Watch the video below:
In the end, the more things change, the more things stay the same: Soft Cell still has their songwriting magic, and this collaboration with Pet Shop Boys on “Purple Zone” is a beautiful union.
“Working with the Pet Shop Boys was a pleasure, and this track is the perfect combination of us and them,” Soft Cell’s Marc Almond said in a statement.
This is Soft Cell’s first new album since 2002’s Cruelty Without Beauty, and their fifth overall. Almond and Ball reunited in 2018 to perform a concert in London called “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” that was meant to both celebrate the group’s 40th anniversary and say farewell…but life always throws a twist.
Ball told the Daily Star, “We haven’t tried to write another Tainted Love. Maybe we should! …But it’d be inappropriate for two 60-something men to try to write bouncy little pop numbers. That doesn’t mean we’ve become miserable, and it’s not heavy industrial music either. I’d say the songs are sounding quite minimal, melodic and bass-driven.”
With “Purple Zone”, Soft Cell has located the sweet spot of compromise: a catchy anthem mixed with good old-fashioned crone wisdom that can only be achieved by truly living an adventurous life.
Watch the live version here:
*Happiness Not Included is out May 6th.
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