Soft Cell – “Keychains and Snowstorms” box set review

Soft Cell

Keychains and Snowstorms – The Soft Cell Story

(Universal – UK import)

Remind me.  Did we have these problems with VHS and vinyl?  Or is it just another of the delights of digital?

You’d think we’d have learned by now, after all.  You’d think, the next time a weighty box set filled with irresistible goodies comes along, we’d… well, we’d resist.  Can you spell A New Career in a New Town?  Can you spell Sophisticated Boombox?  Can you spell… oh, insert your own golden turkey here, the bouncy big box that is stuffed with stellar music, right up until you reach the disc that… the %$#^&% doesn’t play.

For early-bird purchasers at least, it’s the DVD that spoils the party, here.  For nine CDs of generally excellent sonics, generally brilliant music, and a heap of ’80s memories that you may or may not thank the 12-inch mixes for reminding you of, Keychains and Snowstorms is spectacular.  Soft Cell were, after all, the only band in the entire synthipop boom that was carved of anything more than MTV-friendly pop.  Indeed, once you excised “Tainted Love” from the equation, there was more maggoty rancor and lowlife sleaze per square inch of Soft Cell vinyl than you’d find in a square mile of your average urban sprawl.  

“Sex Dwarf,” “The Art of Falling Apart,” “L’Esqualita,” “Sleazy Films,” “Baby Doll,” “Numbers,” “Heat,” “Soul Inside,” “Disease and Desire,” “The Girl with the Patent Leather Face” – Soft Cell were the soundtrack to the kind of dissolution into which nice kids could only dream of descending.  And, if you made it as far as the third and final album, you were probably halfway to getting there.  At their best, and that wraps up a lot of their music, Soft Cell were the most glamorous gutter in which you could awaken, and the nine CDs that devour this box capture more or less every nuance.

Two discs of the twelve inch mixes… true, the CD sound cannot touch the muscle that was flexed by the original vinyl, and a couple of brief edits to the longer numbers might annoy the completists among us.  But play them loud regardless.  The full-length ”Torch” is one of the most exhilarating low-life romances ever set to a dance beat; the extended “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye,” one of the most heartbreaking.  The aforementioned “Numbers” is relentless in its desperation, “Insecure Me” is hilarious.

Catch the 12-inch “It’s a Mug’s Game” while you’re at it, too, and thrill to the only lyric of the 1980s that can truly match “Summertime Blues” and “My Generation” for telling it like it is… or, how to really get your own back on an over strict father.  Go to your room, turn on the stereo…

“…and play your records so loud, all the ones he especially hates… Deep Purple In Rock, Led Zeppelin II… well, even you hate those.”

As Almond declares elsewhere, near the end of “Torch,” “that song you sang, it was my life story….”

And she still doesn’t care, and her chewing gum is still getting stuck in your hair.

Disc three – latter day remixes using period ingredients, oddly a la Ziggy Marley’s recent assaults on dad’s catalog, but maybe even more successful. Discs four and five – rarities, many looking back to the duo’s earliest doings, and there’s a fabulous cover of “Paranoid,” to match the later Hendrix medley that seemed so deliciously heretical at the time, and can still send the Jimi Police squealing on two wheels around to your house.  Disc six – BBC sessions, and the duo’s short-lived comeback.  

Disc seven is a nonstop mix to marry to the old Ecstatic Dancing EP, but focussing upon the more downbeat end of the catalog – “Barriers,” “Where The Heart Is,” “Facility Girls,” “Little Rough Rhinestone” and so on for fifteen tracks.  It’s okay… it does drag on a bit, though, and it’s the closest the box comes to the inevitable “disc you’ll never play.”  Unless, of course, you do.

We close with discs eight and nine, largely recorded live in LA, 1983, and defying the notion that Soft Cell were not a live band.  With additional saxophone, and Almond in excellent voice (which is not always the case), it’s an exhilarating listen – and all the more so because it’s the last two albums as opposed to the first that get the lion’s share of the set list.

Add a hardback book that’s packed with pics, and that’s almost the lot.  With barely a misstep in sight.  Sounds miraculous, right?

It is. Because the DVD, rounding up promo videos, TV and live, ought to be just as dynamic.  Except… the bugger doesn’t play.

Already, there’s threads across the net bemoaning, once again, the foolishness that makes people purchase these packages without waiting for the reviews and the warnings to come in, and, so once again, hurrah!  A box set on an installment plan.  Buy the whole thing now, and we’ll give you some coasters to fill in the gaps while we get around to manufacturing the discs correctly.

Or… “Quality Control?  Yeah, that was one of the interns.  We sent him packing… all he did was listen to music all day.”

PS: Universal have since acknowledged the faulty disc and are currently preparing a replacement disc.  Posted to the Soft Cell website, the announcement reads as follows:

“Universal Music are sorry to inform you that owing to a hand-packing issue, some of the DVD discs featured in the Soft Cell Keychains & Snowstorms Boxset have been damaged causing playing issues, such as freezing and juddering.”

“We would like to make you aware that due to this issue we are currently pressing additional copies of the DVD for anyone who has been affected. If you have experienced problems with your DVD and would like a replacement disc, please contact infoumc@umusic.com with proof of purchase (a scan, screen grab or photo of the receipt will do) and your address and it will be sent out to you.”

 

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