Various Artists

Soft Love: A Tribute to Soft Cell

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One of several unrelated compilations that thankfully bucked the trend of Cleopatra's for-hire spew of nonsense tribute releases in the early 21st century, Soft Love may at times be a bit too restrained vocally. Marc Almond's passionate delivery meant as much to the originals as Dave Ball's blend of accessible melodies and avant-garde noise, and as if in compensation Almond's vocals appear here and there in sampled form. That said, in general the participants here have good fun with many of the band's high points. In terms of the bands, the focus here seems to be on an emerging indie/synth/pop underground, where the winsome feel of the Field Mice has as much influence as Kid 606's perverse experimentation. Thus the stuttering high-pitched robo-vocals of Printed Circuit's "Sex Dwarf" and the Magnetic Fields-reminiscent haze of Kanda's "What?" rub up against a more straightforward rock-out on "Bedsitter" by Huon and the Paul McCartney-gone-math wonk rewrite of "Numbers" by New Waver. In a nice twist, though, the latter song quietly suggests a series of domestic horrors that Almond could understand, even if it's not the original lyrical vision at all. Most of the bands featured are fairly obscure even within the low-key realm they work in, but some more well-known names emerge, including Figurine with its semi-IDM-inspired revamp of "Soul Inside," vocals electronically distorted over a glitch/breakbeat/soothing keyboard arrangement. Fingernail, meanwhile, stretch the tribute concept a bit with a gently freaky version of Almond's solo hit "Tears Run Rings." Moblin's "The Best Way to Kill Me/Soft Love" ranks among the most abstract tributes here, tackling the group's inimitable cover of "Tainted Love" in truly surprising fashion -- given the heavy crackle of synth crunch feedback, chopped-up samples, and more that go into it, it makes Coil's sepulchral take seem normal.