If you’re a softer Soft Cell fan like me, it’s been hard to keep up with Marc Almond all these years. If you’re more ambitious, it’s been quite the ride with dozens of fabulous albums ranging from experimental (Torment and Toreros), cabaret (Mother Fist and Her Five Daughters), Jacques Brel-ian (Jacques) or Russian romance and folk songs (Heart on Snow).
There were grand pop albums from time to time, most notably 1988’s The Stars We Are – a modern new wave record that spawned the hits ‘Tears Run Rings’ and the deliciously dour Nico duet ‘Your Kisses Burn’. A sequel of sorts lays in 2015’s The Velvet Trail, out today on Cherry Red. Sensual, dangerous and otherworldly creatures populate the VIP room as Almond plugs in the neon and welcomes you back into his non-stop erotic cabaret.
Orchestral instrumentals kick off the three-sided album’s acts. ‘Bad to Me’ quickly satiates the ‘Tainted Love’ crowd so that Almond can move forward with his show of shows. ‘Zipped Black Leather Jacket’ is coy and gorgeous and could very well be his life’s story as played out on Broadway, “I’m a shape shifting changeling, so don’t try to assimilate me,” Almond sings with a naughty and seductive wink.
‘Scar’ is a lovely ballad that builds from a lovely piano line to a big and sweeping finish. Should Adele get her hands on it, the song would change the world; but here, Almond more than commands the room with his still perfect voice. ‘Pleasure’s Wherever You Are’ charts his globe-hopping adventures in a melody reminiscent of Paul Heaton’s the Beautiful South at their very best.
Act II gets going with the ‘Minotaur’ – a sweeping love epic that will surely enthrall fanboys and cosplay girls around the world. Mythical creatures crawl out of the ether in ‘Earthly’ and ‘Demon Lover’ too. Sandwiched between is the utterly charming ‘The Pain of Never”.
One would think the album would lose steam by Act 3, but then ‘When The Comet Comes’ clobbers you with a big club hit. Here The Gossip’s Beth Ditto turns in yet another stunning dance floor diva performance.
Almond reclaims the diva crown on ‘Life in My Own Way’, a song more tailored to the theater stage than concert hall. Almond promises the tour that will accompany this album will be a showstopper. These songs sure give him a loaded arsenal of new classics to unravel.
All said and done, The Velvet Trail is a breathtaking ride, one that almost never came to light.
Almond declared that 2010’s Varieté could be his last album of originals. Thankfully, producer Christopher Braide (Lana Del Rey, Paloma Faith, Sia, Britney Spears) couldn’t imagine a world without new Marc Almond songs, so he started penning tracks and sending them to Almond by e-mail. Almond was delighted with what he heard, and soon their version of The Postal Service unfolded. According to Cherry Red: Chris would send new songs to Marc; in turn Marc would record the vocals and send files back to Chris. They would exchange several long emails a day, discussing ideas as well as music, films and T-Rex, inspiring each other as the chemistry deepened.
“I felt the songwriting muse had left me, possibly forever,” Marc Almond said prior to the album’s release. “Then an email arrived with three instrumental tracks. I got goose bumps. I was blown away. Chris had an understanding of the chord changes I adored, of the sounds I loved; songs in minor keys with big dark dramatic pianos and strings. I sat down to write, both excited and inspired. Three songs were written in a matter of days: ‘Minotaur’ a dramatic song about rage and animal passions, ‘Scar’ a torch song about deception and ‘Winter Sun’, a melancholic reflective song about fading love”.
The Velvet Trail is on sale now. Pick it up on iTunes, Amazon (US or UK), but note the CD (get it here) is as gorgeously packaged as the songs. Liner notes or a lyric sheet would have been nice, but as a work of art, the CD packaging works beautifully. All said and done, with The Velvet Trail, Marc Almond out divas Madonna and scores this week’s most essential new release.