This Last Night In Sodom
64:10 min • Some Bizarre • March 16th, 1984
Much as we love the pomp and silliness of it all, the 1980s wasn’t all Jay Aston’s big hair, Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk, and George’s Karma Chameleon. It was equally about Siouxsie’s snarl, Divine’s sneer and Talking Heads’ stubborn strangeness. It was also about Soft Cell’s ‘This Last Night In Sodom’.
But a ‘lost classic’? A possible misnomer, perhaps, for the difficult third album from one of the decade’s most commercially successful, critically acclaimed pop groups. While Soft Cell’s swansong studio album is temporarily deleted on CD pending another re-issue (old versions currently fetch upwards of £25 second hand) the record remains available to download in its full ragged glory on MP3 sites. Hardly ‘lost’ in the true sense, then. It’s just that the “problem” with this awkward, ugly, brutal, record is that hardly anybody talks about it any more.
Like a bastard at a family reunion, ‘This Last Night’ still squats uncomfortably among its contemporaries from that decade of stadium rock, conspicuous consumption and Wham! Bam! positivity. Recorded just two years after their epoch-making, million-selling ‘Tainted Love’ and the massive hit-packed debut album ‘Non Stop Erotic Cabaret’ and released a month after the band had announced they were splitting up anyway, it retains all the grim allure and joie de vivre of a suicide note. Sick and tired of jumping through hoops in the shallow pop game and perpetually poised on the brink of (at least) nineteen nervous breakdowns the record spelt out loud and clear that Marc Almond and Dave Ball were going down – and they were talking the rest of us with ‘em.
There’s the problematic title of course – hardly a godsend for their record label’s sales teams whose job it was to persuade the likes of mimsy WH Smith and old grandma Boots to stock the bloody thing. The sinister sleeve, too, remains an issue. Seemingly scrawled by hand in ten minutes in eye-boggling gold marker pen on a livid red background it retains its perverse power to shock. “Don’t DARE buy me!” it seems to say – here, you have to just try and imagine it in the record racks alongside No Parlez, Diamond Life and Seven And The Ragged Tiger. Furthermore, if the casual record browser did happen to put aside his migraine for a minute, even the most cursory of glances down the tracklisting – ‘Mr Self Destruct’, ‘Slave To This’, ‘Down In The Subway’, ‘The Best Way To Kill’, ‘Meet Murder My Angel’ – would have been enough to convince them it wouldn’t be an appropriate soundtrack for anybody’s wedding reception.
Fortunately, for real fans of the duo (and with the possible exception of The Smiths, Soft Cell polarised record buyers more than just about anybody) ‘This Last Night In Sodom’ wasn’t so much of a shock. Putting aside its deliberately lo-fi sound – heck, some of it was even recorded in mono – what you had in your grubby little, nail-bitten hands was an exemplary set from a band who’d always taken a walk on the wild side. If the hectic, chaotic self-production job didn’t exactly endear it to daytime radio programmers, it was apparent to the insider that the Cell’s trademark melodies, incisive lyrics (every bit as good as Morrissey’s), black sense of humour and sonic daring were very much present and correct. Teeming with references to the bad old New York City, and to drag queens, rape, depression, self-harm, existential isolation and, bingo! drugs it’s the pop record The Birthday Party never dared to make. With its rough ‘n’ ready ‘60s soul, garage and rockabilly stylings, its emotional sadomasochism and self-destructive sensibilities it could even be the album Amy Winehouse eventually comes up with to follow up ‘Back To Black’.
Remarkably, ‘This Last Night’ spawned two hit singles, the still-astonishing epic ‘Soul Inside’ (check out the 12-minute 12” version) and the desperate, tongue-in-cheek cover ‘Down In The Subway’, replete with huge tribal drum sounds and Supremes-y clip-cloppy sound effects. If they’d continued as a going concern they might have been able to skim off a couple of further hits with the suffocating, Moroder-esque ‘Meet Murder My Angel’ (a Hi-NRG remix would have been great) or the surprisingly lithesome ‘Little Rough Rhinestone’. Instead, one of the most unlikely and compelling Pop things of all time called it a day in fine, courageous style with the most satisfying musical statement of their career.