Soft Cell — Happiness Not Included — Album Review
Alternative | Electronic
Soft Cell are definitely one of those groups that are beloved by myself and friends alike. I would argue that they are definitely one of the most prolific and standard-setting electronic artists, who played a vital role in getting the very genre out from the underground.
With that said, I felt extremely privileged to have seen Soft Cell perform live at London’s Hammersmith Apollo (you can read more about that here). Not only was I able to hear some of their classics in a live performance (many of which came from their iconic debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret), but we also got a very good teasing scoop of what was to come from the band in 2022.
Despite kick-starting their career with that aforementioned debut album all the way back in 1981, Soft Cell’s musical 2022 proved that the dynamic, electronic, and erotic duo are still going strong over forty years later.
The first mention I had heard of their brand new album, titled Happiness Not Included, was of course the late 2021 show, in which they played singles such as the two previously released teasers, “Heart Like Chernobyl” and “Bruises On All My Illusions”, as well as singles that were unreleased at the time.
As we moved further into the year of 2022, Soft Cell evenly scattered a few more teaser tracks, each of them building up more anticipation for the full album than the last. I especially thought that the title track absolutely screamed with the same sleazy energy that made Non Stop Erotic Cabaret such a uniquely enjoyable album. However, that appeal definitely didn’t just stop there.
As I picked up from vocalist Marc Almond’s 2020 solo album, Chaos and a Dancing Star (funnily enough), I really developed a full-blown appreciation towards the artist’s songwriting (which can certainly be said for Soft Cell’s material too; it just took me longer than usual to realise). That masterful level of writing only means another great attribute Happiness Not Included has, to add to the authentically retro electronic aesthetic that the album has in spade-loads. On top of that, it really enhances the overall narrative that Soft Cell’s sixth studio album carries.
Said narrative is one of a near-dystopian future; one that the listener, at first glance, might think a fantasy of sorts. But the further you dig into Happiness Not Included, the more you pick up on how this dystopian setting reflects the real world we live in. In other words, this album is one that makes you realise just how strange the world we live in truly is.
This narrative, along with all of the musical quirks, presents a level of atmosphere that is unbelievably engaging. On top of that, it also reflects the genius of this duo very well.
My only real gripe with the album is perhaps the over-abundance of slow-burning, stripped back ballads. I feel that it is the more dynamic and energetic tunes that really surprised me the most (and in the best way). The softer tunes are what I would more so expect from a band that has been going for over forty years. It’s definitely excusable. And besides, there were a select few of those softer tunes that I enjoyed; namely “Light Sleepers”, that was both pleasant, and a bit of a personal attack if I’m honest. Nevertheless, it had my attention, as many of the tracks on this awesome album do.
COnsidering the duo’s last album was released twenty years ago, there was likely a lot of anticipation surrounding what this album would sound like. Fortunately, Happiness Not Included proves that Soft Cell have stood against the test of time, and the very future they paint a picture of on this brilliant record.
Favourite Tracks: Polaroid | Happiness Not Included | Nostalgia Machine | Nighthawks
Least Favourite Track: New Eden