Marc Almond: Hits and Pieces - The Best of Marc Almond and Soft Cell
Hits and Pieces concentrates on the commercially-appealing aspects of Almond's recordings, painting him as the pop star he has always been so reluctant to be.
It seems like curious timing to release a one-or-two-disc greatest-hits collection mere months after the release of a ten-disc super-comprehensive box set for the same artist. That said, one has to imagine that there are plenty of people who profess to like or even love Marc Almond and/or Soft Cell without wanting to spend 10 CDs' worth of money or time on them. Hits and Pieces is for those people. It is a fine collection in both its one and two-disc configurations. It will never satisfy the die-hard fans, who will happily point out its many omissions, but those fans already bought the ten-disc set anyway.
Few artists have done so much with so little. Marc Almond's voice is a limited instrument, on its own not particularly strong or emotive (nor always completely in tune), though it does carry a rapid vibrato that has become a signature to this point. The mind behind that voice, however, is full of enough imagination, drive, and sheer creativity to overcome the limitations of the instrument. It's unlikely that Almond will ever be widely seen as anything more than a new wave artifact of the '80s, but his output spans industrial and cabaret, classical, and rock. Even a two-disc compilation is bound to leave out facets of his catalog that fans would consider essential.
Hits and Pieces concentrates on the commercially-appealing aspects of Almond's recordings, painting him as the pop star he has always been so reluctant to be. A full nine tracks -- two of them the nearly nine-minute 12" single versions of the songs -- are devoted to Soft Cell, the outfit that Almond is most famous for. In a way, this makes sense, in that this is the portion of his career that the majority of this compilation's consumers will identify with. Also to be fair, these are great songs, and it's difficult to pick one to leave out.
Opening with "Memorabilia" is an inspired move, as its disco beats and glitchy electronics foresaw the direction of electronic music for decades to come. "Say Hello Wave Goodbye" is a beautiful piece of work, showcasing both Dave Ball's adept touch with bouncy electronics and Almond's flair for a plebian sort of high drama. It's also easy to see where Almond and Ball started to lose their audience with songs like "Where the Heart Is" and the cover of Jack Hammer's "Down in the Subway", from the underappreciated latter albums The Art of Falling Apart and This Last Night in Sodom, respectively. They're both great songs, but it's tough to put on your dancing shoes to songs about broken homes and suicide.