The original and still the best single-disc Soft Cell compilation (at least up through the band's long-awaited reactivation in 2001), The Singles 1981-1985 is just what it says it is, and what a collection it is. Along with other genre- and era-defining compilations such as Depeche Mode's similarly titled singles disc and Visage's best-of, The Singles 1981-1985 captures the sheer luxuriant thrill and shock of England's early-'80s electro-pop boom. Even more to the point, though, it also stands up perfectly in later years, instantly catchy as well as shockingly surprising and exciting pop that managed to be both rooted in the past and perfectly of the moment and beyond. That so many of these songs were big hits in England testifies to the band's accidental but spot-on appeal; that most didn't repeat such success in America is a downright shame. "Tainted Love," unsurprisingly, remains the eternal defining moment of the duo's career and appears here in its short edit, but the collection in fact begins with the equally impressive, frenetic electro-disco fusion "Memorabilia" and takes things from there. Only a couple of the singles were actual misfires -- Almond himself later said the cover of "What!" was suggested by a record company hoping for another fluke remake hit -- while the majority bear perfect testimony to both Almond's passionate singing and impressive lyrics and Ball's ear for great arrangements and melodies. The absolutely dead-on slice-of-life "Bedsitter," the astonishing, spotlight-grabbing romantic angst of "Say Hello Wave Goodbye," the slow burn of the spectacularly underrated "Torch," the sheer frenetic collapse of "Soul Inside" -- just four highlights among many. An appreciative essay from English critic Tony Mitchell makes for a nice overall touch. All three original albums remain fascinating collections for even casual fans to explore, while the hardcore need to have The Twelve-Inch Singles compilation, but if there's one record that's absolutely hands-down necessary, The Singles 1981-1985 is it.
The Singles Review
by Ned Raggett