Release Date: Mar 9, 2015
Record label: Cherry Red
Everyone has an opinion on Marc Almond. Those views may be shaped by a familiarity formed from endless Tainted Loves at torturous school discos; or maybe a later thrill that came from illicit recognition of ourselves in the edgier Marc that explored the areas of our lives we often prefer to keep buried. But all too rarely has it evolved from a generous appreciation of an artist who has simply wanted to entertain for more than three decades without stagnating.
Marc Almond, one of vanguard pop's great chameleons and stylists, suggested that 2010's Variete would be his final album of original material. True to his word, his intervening records, The Tyburn Tree: Dark London and Ten Plagues: A Song Cycle, have been largely collaborative affairs that featured his voice more than his songwriting. Composer, multi-instrumentalist, and producer Chris Braide sought to change his mind about retirement.
The result of a transatlantic collaboration with longtime fan Chris Braide – songwriter/producer for Britney Spears and Beyoncé, among others – Marc Almond’s first set of original material in five years is an impressive affair. Highlights include exuberant pop songs, notably the carefree Pleasure’s Wherever You Are and When the Comet Comes, a daft but enjoyable cosmos-themed duet with Beth Ditto. But Almond is at his best on the compelling torch songs that have long been his stock in trade.
It was songwriter and producer Chris Braide – who has worked with Lana del Rey, David Guetta, Beyoncé and Britney Spears – who urged the former Soft Cell singer to make “the ultimate Marc Almond album”. But anyone familiar with his modus operandi might say he’s always been making “the ultimate Marc Almond album”– he’s forever on the emotional outer limits, a self-created romantic star. The Velvet Trail has plenty of the Almond trademarks.
One listen to The Velvet Trail confirms the creative spirit still burns deep within Marc Almond, despite his strong hint that the Varieté album of five years ago might be the last to feature his own songwriting. Enter Chris Braide, whose music and production feature on records by Paloma Faith, Lana Del Rey and Sia. Given the prowess of those three very different female singers, it isn’t such a big step to imagine the suitability of Braide’s writing for Marc Almond’s voice – and as soon as the former Soft Cell singer saw the potential he had the words at his disposal.
The phrase “pop outsider” may at first blush seem to be a naked contradiction—after all, if “pop” is short for “popular”, one’s very status as “pop” should preclude any description as an “outsider”—yet, in describing figures such as Marc Almond, it becomes incredibly difficult to call them anything else. With a career now spanning three decades, breaking the top ten on UK pop charts both with Soft Cell and as a solo musician, Almond most certainly fits the “pop” qualifier. Still, it becomes incredibly hard to argue with his status as an outsider.