In a previous blog on examining all Adam Ant’s songs about sexual paraphilias, I noted that Soft Cell are probably the only other recording artists who come close to talking about the seedier side of sex. They are also artists that (like one of my other favourite bands, Throbbing Gristle) have never been afraid to sing about taboo topics including prostitution (‘Secret Life’, A Divided Soul’), a housewife’s sexual fantasy about the paper boy (‘Kitchen Sink Drama’), pure hedonism (‘Sensation Nation’), alternative therapies such as colonic irrigation, meditation, and crystal therapy (‘Whatever It Takes’), murder (‘The Best Way To Kill’, ‘Meet Murder My Angel’), suicide (‘Darker Times’, ‘Frustration’ and ‘Down In The Subway’ – “Jump on that train track and die”), incest (‘I Am 16’), psychopathic killers (‘Martin’ based on the story of a serial killer in a film of the same name), shopaholism (‘Whatever It Takes’), anorexia nervosa (‘Excretory Eat Anorexia’), and obsessional cleansing (‘Cleansing Fanatic’), to name but a few.
Soft Cell arguably saw themselves as outside of the norm. Their first official release, an EP entitled ‘Mutant Moments’ EP set out their psychological store (and where ‘Metro Mr. X’ was their “favourite mutant”). They also had a track on the seminal 1980 (various artists) Some Bizarre Album about a disfigured woman (‘The Girl With The Patent Leather Face’). Very few artists would ever sing about such topics (although there are a few exceptions such as Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Hamburger Lady’ based on the medical case notes of a badly burned woman).
Soft Cell’s reputation as a band that focused on the sleazy side of everyday life was cemented after the release of their 1981 debut album Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret (NSEC). The cover featured a photo of the band’s two members (Marc Almond and Dave Ball) taken outside the Raymond Revue Bar, a notorious strip joint in the heart of London’s Soho district.
Just as the Velvet Underground’s debut album was viewed as a ‘sex and drugs’ LP because of a couple of songs about sadomasochistic sex (‘Venus In Furs’) and drug-taking (‘Heroin’), NSEC’s reputation as a ‘sleazy sex’ album also rested on just a few songs – most notably ‘Seedy Films’ (about telephone sex as well as pornographic films), ‘Secret Life’ (about using prostitutes behind a wife’s back), and the (now infamous) ‘Sex Dwarf’ (a song glorifying sadomasochistic sex). Later songs and albums also touched on various aspects of sexuality (their third album This Last Night In Sodom raising a few eyebrows on its’ release in 1984). They wanted to “try all of the vices” (in ‘The Art Of Falling Apart’) and also sang about having sex in cars (‘It’s A Mug’s Game’ and ‘Where Was Your Heart [When You Needed It Most’).
One of my personal favourite in the Soft Cell canon is the 2002 song ‘Perversity’ which was a bonus track on their comeback single ‘Monoculture’ after reforming in 2001. It talked about studying at the “university of perversity” and provided me with the title to my series of blogs on the A-Z of little known paraphilias and fetishes. As Marc Almond and Friends, there was also a great cover version of Throbbing Gristle’s ‘Discipline’ (a song about sadomasochism) and ‘Sleaze It, Take It, Shake It’ (by Almond’s side-project, Marc and the Mambas)
Soft cell’s second hit single ‘Bedsitter’ summed up my formative years as a teenage clubber and shares some of the same lyrical DNA as The Smiths classic ‘How Soon Is Now?’ (going to nightclubs in search of love and/or sex but going home alone). I’d also argue that Soft Cell sometimes give The Smiths a run for their money when it comes to songs about misery (e.g., ‘Chips On My Shoulder’, ‘Mr. Self-Destruct’, ‘Bleak Is My Favourite Cliché’, ‘Forever The Same’, ‘Down In The Subway’ and ‘Born To Lose’).
But Soft Cell aren’t just about sex, they also like songs about love more generally although their take on love is more about the unrequited love, the disintegration of love (‘Tainted Love’, ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’, ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’, ‘All Out Of Love’, ‘Together Alone’, ‘Desperate [For Love]’, ‘L.O.V.E. Feelings’, ‘Whatever It Takes’, ‘Last Chance’, ‘What’, ‘Barriers’, ‘Disease And Desire’, ‘Her Imagination’, ‘Desperate’, and ‘Torch’). In short they focus on (as they describe in their song ‘Loving You, Hating Me’) “the other side of love” and the “devil in my bed” (‘from ‘God-Shaped Hole’). The only other band that have explored the ‘darker’ side of love lyrically in so many different songs are Depeche Mode (which I discussed in a previous blog on obsessional lyrics in pop music). Their songs aren’t afraid to feature one-night stands and casual sex (‘Numbers’, ‘Surrender To A Stranger’, ‘Heat’, ‘Where Was Your Heart [When You Needed It Most’ and ‘Fun City’). It’s also worth noting that Soft Cell were never afraid to talk about drug use in their songs including cocaine (‘Frustration’), LSD (‘Frustration’), alcohol (‘It’s A Mug’s Game’), valium (‘Tupperware Party’, ‘My Secret Life’), heroin (‘L’Esqualita’) and their “dealer in the hall” (‘Divided Soul’).
They also made cover versions that were often better than the originals. They sexed the songs up or made them mean, moody and menacing. Soft Cell were huge fans of Northern soul and is evident in their covers of songs like ‘Tainted Love’, ‘The Night’ and ‘Where Did Our Love Go?’ but their other cover versions came from a wide variety of artists including Jimi Hendrix (their 11-minute ‘Hendrix Medley’ comprising ‘Hey Joe’, ‘Purple Haze’ and ‘Voodoo Chile’), Johnny Thunders (‘Born To Lose’), Suicide (‘Ghostrider’), Lou Reed (‘Caroline Says’ as Marc and the Mambas), and John Barry (‘007 Theme’ and ‘You Only Live Twice’). From the very first note, this were instantly Soft Cell even though they didn’t write the songs.
Lyrically (and musically), some of their best songs were on their final 2000 studio album Cruelty Without Beauty. For instance, ‘Caligula Syndrome’ depicts sadomasochism (“crawling down on your hands and knees like slaves”), orgies, and “every kind of deviation on demand”. The song ‘Grand Guignol’ is about the Parisian theatre that operated from 1897 until it closed in 1962. The theatre specialised in naturalistic amoral horror entertainment shows horror shows or as Soft Cell put it: “It’s Grand Guignol/It’s rock ‘n’ roll/It’s vaudeville and burlesque/All of human life is here/In the theatre of the grotesque”. A sentiment that (I would argue) also sums up the many of the blogs I have published on this website.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addictions, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Almond, M. (1999). Tainted Life. London: Sidgwick and Jackson.
Almond, M. (2004). In Search Of The Pleasure Palace. London: Sidgwick and Jackson.
Fanni Tutti, C. (2017). Art Sex Music. Faber & Faber: London.
Lindsay, M. (2013). Sex music for gargoyles: Soft Cell’s The Art Of Falling Apart. The Quietus, December 12. Located at: http://thequietus.com/articles/14100-soft-cell-interview-marc-almond
Reed, J. (1999). Marc Almond: The Last Star. London: Creation Books.
Reynolds, S. (2006). Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk, 1978–1984. New York: Penguin.
Tebbutt, S. (1984). Soft Cell. London: Sidgwick and Jackson.
Wikipedia (2017). Marc Almond. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marc_Almond
Wikipedia (2017). Soft Cell. Located at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_Cell
“A body of an adult female of about 25 years old was found dead in a naked condition in a reserved forest area in South Delhi in June, 2006 by police. There was information to [the] police via public call as 2-3 people had killed one lady after [having] sex [with her] and [then running] away. Further enquiry, revealed that they all had consumed alcohol along with the lady. They also had sexual intercourse with her using condom…Following the quarrel they killed her by hitting her head with a heavy stone. After killing her, they also tried to destroy her identity by burning her face with wooden stick and twigs and her clothes. One of them also introduced a wine bottle inside [her] vagina. There were multiple postmortem injuries in particular pattern over left side lower part of chest, abdomen and inguinal regions including upper part of left thigh. All [the] accused were subsequently arrested by the police”.
This shocking account of a brutal murder was the opening paragraph in a paper by Dr. B.L. Chaudhary and his colleagues in a 2007 issue of the Journal of Indian Academy of Forensic Medicine (JIAFM). Although an increasingly common theme in television and film homicides, post-mortem mutilation of a dead person’s body by perpetrators is arguably much rarer than the incidence in fictionalized drama. The JIAFM paper noted that the majority of such cases typically involve body “dismemberment for the purpose of disposing or hiding a body or of preventing identification”.
A national study carried out in Sweden by Dr. Jovan Rajs and colleagues in the Journal of Forensic Sciences found that only 22 deaths over a 30-year period (1961-1990) had been criminally mutilated and/or dismembered. These were then classified into one of three types: (i) defensive, (ii) offensive (i.e., lust murder) and (iii) necromanic mutilation. They reported that the perpetrators of the defensive and aggressive post-mortem mutilation were typically “disorganized” (i.e., alcoholics, drug abusers, mentally disordered) whereas the lust murderers were typically “organized” with a long history of violent crimes. The JIAFM paper summarized the findings of Raus and colleagues:
“The characteristics of the mutilations were diverse. In cases of murder committed in association with sexual deviation, wounding is usually limited to the breasts and sexual organs. Corpse mutilation can also be of a symbolic nature as in cases of mafia murders (revenge punishment) and then it is associated with torturing the victim and with the motive of destruction of identify of victim”.
In the case of the female victim reported by Chaudhary and colleagues, they reported that it was the victim’s head, face, and chest that were burned, destroyed, and mutilated post-mortem. They speculated that this was done to either (i) to prevent identification of the victim, (ii) to make it difficult to determine the cause of death, or (iii) as an act of depersonalization as it is often seen “when the murder is disorganized and has a close relation to his victim or offensive mutilation as general act of frustration”. Why the men had inserted a foreign object into the woman’s vagina was less clear. The authors speculated that it may have been because of (i) frustration of a non-performing sexual partner because of heavy intoxication, (ii) an extortion demand by victim, (iii) blackmail by the victim, or (iv) psychopathic tendencies of the perpetrators can carried out for sadistic pleasure. However, they also added that:
“In this case as there was alleged history of consensual sexual activity which could be or could not be as body had injuries so it could be non-consensual activity also. Apparently there was no smell in the [gastric] contents but samples were sent for alcohol screening/concentration estimation. In [the medical] literature, various materials and objects like chilly powder, corrosives, metal or wooden sticks are introduced into genitalia as a part of punishment for unfaithfulness or infidelity. Males suffering from depression due to erectile dysfunctions, premature ejaculation and impotency may indulge in extreme frustration cases. In this psychological profiling of the accused can also be helpful in knowing for such abnormal instincts. At times, provocative words by female partner about their malehood could trigger such impulsive murder and mutilation”
Post-mortem mutilation while extreme can sometimes border on the almost unbelievable. For instance, Dr. J. Kunz and Dr. A. Gross published a paper in a 2001 issue of the American Journal of Forensic and Medical Pathology which as Ronseal would claim “does exactly what it says on the tin” as it was entitled “Victim’s scalp on the killer’s head: An unusual case of criminal postmortem mutilation”. The paper reported that:
“After killing his father, the son decapitated his body and dissected the scalp free, forming a mask of the father’s head and neck. The young man wore the scalp-mask over his own head to imitate the father. The motive of the murder was revenge, and the postmortem mutilation was the realization of the perpetrator’s fantasies, symbolically representing a penalty for the reprehensible past life of his father”.
Another extreme case of postmortem mutilation following murder was reported by Dr. Tomasz Konopka and his colleagues in a 2006 issue of the Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology. In this instance, a Polish man cut up the corpse and dismembered the body into 850 fragments. He “employed various tools to divide the body into fragments and subsequently boiled the pieces to reduce their volume”. This reduced the body volume by 30kg. The murderer then placed all the body fragments into two large pots in a space under his stairwell and then plastered over the wall to hide the body. Another paper by Dr. Konopka and colleagues in a 2007 issue of Legal Medicine examined 23 cases of dismembered bodies in the 1968-2005 period at the Cracow Department of Forensic Medicine. Of these, 17 were cases of defensive mutilation, three were offensive mutilation and two were dismemberment (decapitation, and direct cause of death). One case remained unclassified where the murderer dissected free skin from the whole torso. They concluded that:
“Apart from rare cases of necrophilia, the victim of dismemberment is always a victim of homicide. Homicides ending with corpse dismemberment are most commonly committed by a person close to, or at least acquainted with the victim and they are performed at the site of homicide, generally in the place inhabited by the victim, the perpetrator or shared by both. Such instances are generally not planned by the perpetrator and rarely serial in character”.
Finally, I came across an interesting 2009 paper by a Finnish team led by Dr. Häkkänen-Nyholm in the Journal of Forensic Sciences. The authors noted that research relating to mutilation of bodies by murderers was “sparse”. They estimated the rate of mutilation of the victim’s body in Finnish homicides. To do this they examined all crime and forensic reports of homicide offenders from 1995–2004 (n = 676). Only 13 murders (2.2%) involved postmortem mutilation. They concluded that:
“Educational and mental health problems in childhood, inpatient mental health contacts, self-destructiveness, and schizophrenia were significantly more frequent in offenders guilty of mutilation. Mutilation bore no significant association with psychopathy or substance abuse. The higher than usual prevalence of developmental difficulties and mental disorder of this subsample of offenders needs to be recognized”.
Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK
Chaudhary, B.L., Murty, O.P. & Singh, D. (2007). Foreign objects in genitalia: Homicide with destruction of identity – A case report. Journal of Indian Academy of Forensic Medicine, 29(4), 135-137.
Häkkänen-Nyholm, H., Weizmann‐Henelius, G., Salenius, S., Lindberg, N., & Repo-Tiihonen, E. (2009). Homicides with mutilation of the victim’s body. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 54(4), 933-937.
Hladík, J., Štefan, J., Srch, M., & Pilin, A. (2000). A rare case of evisceration. International Journal of Legal Medicine, 113(2), 107-109.
Konopka, T., Bolechala, F., & Strona, M. (2006). An unusual case of corpse dismemberment. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 27(2), 163-165.
Konopka, T., Strona, M., Bolechała, F., & Kunz, J. (2007). Corpse dismemberment in the material collected by the Department of Forensic Medicine, Cracow, Poland. Legal Medicine, 9(1), 1-13.
Kunz, J. & Gross, A. (2001). Victim’s scalp on the killer’s head: An unusual case of criminal postmortem mutilation. American Journal of Forensic and Medical Pathology, 22(3), 327-31.
Rajs, J., Lundstrom, M., Broberg, M., Lidberg, L., & Lindquist, O. (1998). Criminal mutilation of the human body in Sweden: A thirty year medico-legal and forensic psychiatric study. Journal of Forensic Sciences, 43(3), 563-80.
Simonsen, J. (1989). A sadistic homicide. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 10(2), 159-163.
Türk, E. E., Püschel, K., & Tsokos, M. (2004). Features characteristic of homicide in cases of complete decapitation. The American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, 25(1), 83-86.