On the surface, Marc Almond might be an unlikely candidate to warrant a ten-disc, career-spanning box treatment. For many, he is best known as half of '80s synth pop outfit Soft Cell (along with David Ball); their biggest hit, "Tainted Love," and its video were synonymous with vintage MTV. (In England their run was more substantive and lasted through 1984.) Post-Soft Cell, Almond's career spiraled off into a dazzling variety of directions with sometimes deft, sometimes daft albums that moved through erotic torch songs, Jean Genet-inspired hustler's balladry, Brechtian cabaret, elegant chanson, Russian-inspired folk and orchestral theater music, pop standards, and industrial abstract experiments in covers and originals. This massive set represents that depth and breadth, dripping all the while with eros, dark, wry humor, and vulnerable emotion.
Packaged in a garishly handsome fuchsia and red box are two thematically arranged gatefold-disc sleeves and a hardbound, photo-laden book with a generous introduction by the artist and an engaging historical essay by Alexis Petridis. Almond handpicked all 192 selections. The first four discs, entitled "History," contain 72 selections collected from B-sides, solo albums, Soft Cell, Marc & the Mambas, Marc Almond & the Willing Sinners, etc. Highlights include "Threat of Love" (with Siouxsie Sioux and Budgie), a stellar duet with Nico from 1988's brilliant The Stars We Are, a reading of "Pearly Night" with the Orchestra Royssia from Orpheus in Exile (an album of songs by Vadim Kozin), and "Mother Fist." The second sleeve contains Almond's singles in chronological order, including all the prime Soft Cell jams (unfortunately, the harrowing long version of "Memorabilia" is omitted), odd hits -- including the 1988 cover of “Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart” with Gene Pitney -- "A Woman's Story," "The Boy Who Came Back," "The Idol," "Stories Of Johnny" and Yesterday Has Gone," the latter sung in duet with P.J. Proby. The final three discs fill out a mind-boggling portrait of Almond and are loaded with treasures. Culled from his private collection, they contain one-offs, unreleased demos, compilation cuts, collaborations, flexi-disc releases, unissued performances, and more. There's "Dark Age of Love" with Coil, the unissued (and amazing) "Three Monkey Tango," "The Exhibitionist" (one of two tracks with Johann Johannsson), "Kill Me or Make Me Beautiful" with Armen Ra, "The Falconer with X-TG, "Cry" with the Jools Holland Big Band, a demo cover of Jobriath's "Be Still," and a brief studio jam of Marc Bolan's "Perfumed Garden of Gulliver Smith." Trials of Eyeliner offers dazzling and exhaustive evidence of Almond's compulsive creativity. It's more than any casual fan could -- or would -- embrace, but this isn't for them. Instead, it's the unholy grail for obsessives who embrace all of Almond's musical contradictions and celebrate his pop iconoclasm. As such, and on many other fronts, it succeeds in spades.