Over the course of his long, post-Soft Cell solo career, Marc Almond evolved into a modern-day cabaret singer, an artist more comfortable in the climes of Scott Walker and Jacques Brel than the soundscapes of synth pop. Variete seems to mark a peak in that evolutionary period; Almond's first album of original material in over a decade, it finds him penning his own saloon songs to croon, whereas he'd spent the last several years delivering material written by others. Accordingly, the songs are drenched with drama on every side; Almond packs as much emotion as possible into each line without overdoing it, and the lyrics themselves are a tour de force of melancholy, regret, nostalgia, and world-weariness, all given a bittersweet burnishing that seems to mark Almond as the Bryan Ferry of his generation. When he sings "I'll make every small drama so big" on "It's All Going on in My Head," he's not just whistling Dixie. And with the help of some crafty collaborators, Almond has put together music to match -- Variete's production flows freely from spare, late-night-in-the-cocktail-lounge settings to big, bold, orchestral statements, over which Almond lets all his carefully cultivated neuroses hang out in a properly artful fashion. At times, the limitations of Almond's vocal chops do become noticeable -- his technique isn't always a match for his melodies, and even he'd likely be the first to admit he's no Scott Walker. But in the realm of cabaret -- particularly that of the post-modern variety -- emotion and intent count for as much as lung power, and Almond manages to get across on his natural theatricality even when his voice gets a bit wobbly. It should be noted that initial pressings of the album come with a bonus disc containing seven outtakes from the album. Arranged in a more minimal, acoustic-based manner, these offer an intriguing alternative to the maximalist approach of the album proper, shining a brighter light on Almond's songwriting abilities.
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AllMusic Review by James Allen