When Marc Almond, clearly impressed by the sheer scale of Soft Cell's final gig marking their 40th anniversary, asks “Who’d have thought we’d end up in a place like this” it hammers home that Almond -alongside keyboardist Dave Ball - are not the standard fayre that perform at The O2.
What’s equally as impressive is how they manage to captivate a sold-out O2 with a set which is as confrontational as it is crowd pleasing. It’s easy to forget that they crumbled as a band thirty-five years ago, leaving a slim back catalogue behind them but as the recently released Keychains & Snowstorm boxsets attests, during the six years of their initial existence (they briefly reformed in 2001), consistent high quality came from the chaos that surrounded them.
Beginning with a fizzing rendition of debut single “Memorabilia”, it’s clear this isn’t a sad goodbye, more a victory lap. “Darker Times” is accompanied by dystopian visuals and the gloriously dirgy “Together Alone” made for strange selections, so when “Torch” - one of their finest moments is played - the whole arena erupts. This proves to be the trigger for the gig; from hereon in, a cringy duet with long forgotten eighties popstar Mari Wilson aside, they don’t put a foot wrong with their choices.
“Insecure Me” is restless and urgent, “Where The Heart Is” - one of the catchiest songs about family dysfunction - threatens to fall apart as Almond forgets his lines, urging the audience to sing along which they duly do, while “Loving You, Hating Me” is heartfelt and anthemic.
In the forty years since Soft Cell formed Leeds to lure “Disco dollies to a life of vice”, their stock has slowly risen. Now, with hindsight we appreciate how ground-breaking they were: one of the first acts to take the concept of the extended version culture of disco and apply it to pop and one of the first acts to operate as a rock act solely using electronics as well as bringing sex, kitchen sink drama, sleaze, anxiety and faded glamour to the pop charts
A deliciously trashy rendition of “The Best Way To Kill” is introduced as “garage punk, electronics – just like the old days”, having to restart the track three times proves to be the epitome of punk, “Meet Murder, My Angel” is intensely gothic and melodramatic, while the accompanying video of Ball and Almond in their art school days which accompanies the creeping gloom of “Youth” is a simple and touching moment.
Although it’s the hits that get the biggest reaction and it’s a triple attack of “Martin”, “Heat” (with arena warming pyrotechnics) and a furious “The Art of Falling Apart” which close a thrilling mid-section of deep cuts. Their second album The Art of Falling Apart (1983), a nervous breakdown of an album recorded within the construct of pop, is now rightly seen as a stone cold classic and for it to be showcased in such a way proves a thrill.
A jubilant “Soul Inside” and a camp as anything rendition of “What” set up the final chapter: “Bedsitter”, and “Tainted Love”; Almond wryly announcing it with “Marilyn Manson’s version was ok, but this is the one”. Of course it’s “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye” which closes the gig, invoking an arena filling singalong while shining glitter shards explode over the crowd. It's an emotionally charged and approriately dramatic way to see out this triumphant closing chapter.