Marc Almond's Open All Night

Marc Almond
Open All Night

The former Soft Cell electro-pop crooner has always been slippery, but on his latest album, Marc Almond has gotten … well, Tricky. That is, in the 15 years since unplugging the two-man synth-dance band best known for the bitter swing of “Tainted Love,” Almond has issued multiple albums and singles (many of which are import-only) with various backing groups (including industrial-noise pioneer Jim “Foetus” Thirwell), but none has sounded so close to where his former group left off — and where trip hop has picked up.

Since Soft Cell's heyday, many electronic dance music artists have taken great strides toward giving soul to synth-pop. In particular, Tricky's murky and ominous sounds owe much to Almond's fascination with the dark side of love. So, perhaps fittingly, the ever-hip Almond now borrows heavily from that DJ's bag of tricks. Vacillating between confessional show tunes, dapper swing, electronic dance, and Spanish-flavored cabaret, Almond's solo albums are alight with his characteristic impassioned crooning over organic instrumentation. But not only is the singer's emotive tenor expressive and powerful, his lyrics are always clever excursions into dark, desperate, and romantic themes. And, while Open All Night sticks with Almond's usual fetishistic and occasionally violent subject matter, the music takes a turn toward electronica from his usual interest in sounds generated by acoustic, non-synthesized instruments.

“Night & Dark” starts with a tinny, faux-sampled piano and accordion overture in the Portishead vein, until the lurching tango kicks in, driven by pulsing upright bass and looped drum machine rhythms. Almond's melancholy infects the tune as he sings, “Night and dark/ Forever in my heart/ Forever when you say goodbye/ All the stars will fade and die.” Elsewhere, the ballad “Tragedy” places a chiming guitar — reminiscent of the piercing alarm of the Supremes classic “You Keep Me Hanging On” — over trip-hop drumbeats and a descending violin and electronic bass line. Almond hints at his urge for the forlorn, singing, “Tragedy/ Take a look and see/ I'm laughing in the face of adversity/ … I need a little hurt to get along.”

Tremolo-soaked guitars, trilling pianos, and gliding strings set a noir-tinged mood over the funky synth bleats and syncopated hip-hop rhythms on the title track, while Almond implores, “Unlock your soul and turn on your neon light/ Keep your heart open all night.” While Open All Night sounds heavily influenced by current trends in dance music, Almond remains one of the genre's most charismatic and irrepressible artists.

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