Marc Almond – Tenement Symphony

Marc Almond – Tenement Symphony (6CD/DVD Limited Edition Box Set)

The first time I encountered solo Marc Almond was the song My Hand Over My Heart on the 1991 Pride compilation Get Out. I was completely enthralled by such a perfect ’90s pop tune and would play it for anyone I could trap into listening. Fast forward a couple years, and I find a copy of the album from which that song came, Tenement Symphony, in the local record store bargain bin. When I got home and played the album, the song that was my obsession wasn’t even the best one on the disc. To this day, Tenement Symphony is one of my favourite ’90s albums, not least of all thanks to the stunning production work from Trevor Horn.

When I saw that a deluxe edition was available, I jumped at the chance to review it. The six CD version has everything and more that you might want or expect. In fact, 34 of the 76 tracks were not previously available commercially. Not everything is essential, however this is an obsessive completist’s wet dream. Through numerous extended mixes to live renditions, every aspect of these songs is laid bare – the arrangements, the strength of the songwriting, the sharp production techniques (not just Trevor Horn’s but the Grid and Almond/McGee/Hine vehicles as well), and the vocal abilities of the artist. Some tracks (particularly the extended mixes) fare better than others thirty years on, but much of that has to do with the dance mix conventions of the day.

When originally released in 1991, the album opened with the collection of “stand-alone” songs, beginning with Meet Me in My Dream. The second side was the six song sequence of the Trevor Horn-produced and Anne Dudley orchestrated extravaganza, Tenement Symphony. For the reissue, the sides are flipped, as was Almond’s original intention. It makes more sense for the dramatic and lush orchestral Prelude to open the proceedings, beautifully setting up the hard-hitting punch of Almond’s take on the Jacques Brel classic Jacky. Tied together by the arrangements, the songs flow beautifully from one to another, Almond’s vocals full of passion, lust and heart in equal measure. The songs, co-written with Soft Cell’s Dave Ball and long-time collaborator Billy McGee, follow. Rounding off the first disc are six songs which were originally written for the album but rejected by the record company for their darkness and subject matter, which ended up as B-sides to the singles.

The first of these additional songs is Bruises, an upbeat ditty featuring a synth riff straight out of Billy Preston’s Space Race. Almond bemoans an abusive lover: “One day I’ll try to find a love that’s true / I’m sure I’ll end up loving someone who don’t give me / Bruises on my soul.” Deadly Serenade is a sinister minor key tune, bolstered by a wailing trumpet, about an irresistible bad boy. Deep Night is a slinky, sensual tune with an outstanding vocal melody and an entrancing percussive groove. The uncluttered arrangement is refreshing after the excess of the album proper. A Love Outgrown is a story song about maturing beyond life as a seventeen-year-old in Southport to explore the larger world and to follow one’s dreams. This mid-tempo number is given an exotic twist with subtle accordion accompaniment which helps elevate it past its otherwise typical nineties synth pop origins. Sexual appetite is the unstated subtext of Night and No Morning, a haunting tune of desperation and the nocturnal hunt for an erotic connection. Money For Love is the final track, a tale of life in the sex trade. Danceable and creepy in equal measure, it goes on just a little too long.

Disc Two is a compilation of bonus tracks and remixes. The remixes add little or nothing except for length, a surprising shame. However, things get interesting with a cover of Madonna’s Like A Prayer from the 1992 compilation Ruby Trax. A heavily orchestrated take on the Madge classic, Almond’s version swings and takes the song into unexpected territory, coming out the other side even more outrageously glorious than the original. Likewise, Dancing in A Golden Cage is six-and-a-half minutes of disco madness. A paean to hedonism, Almond attacks the vocals with all the relish and unbridled desire you might expect. The way he sings “give me hedonism” as “give me head-onism” is lascivious and delicious.

The remixes on Disc Three get more creative and interesting than those offered on Disc Two. The Larrabee mix of What Is Love? almost dispenses with the beat for sweeping violins and a female vocal, creating an entirely new song. Similarly, Deadly Serenade relies on the strings and emphasises the trumpet in conjunction with the female background vocals to create another fun-house mirror image of the original. Mr B’s Supa Dub version of Dancing in A Golden Cage strips away the main vocal to emphasise the beat without losing the essence of the song, whereas the Larrabee Echo Mix of What Is Love? puts the emphasis on the vocals. The Techno Remix of Beautiful Brutal Thing is all percussive synths giving way to the airiness of John Coxon’s Dub Mix of My Hand Over My Heart and the almost ambient chill of Champagne (Backing Track With Piano).

Live and vastly different is the name of the game on Disc Four, beginning with cabaret-style solo piano renditions of Jacky, Meet Me In My Dream and Champagne. Stripped as bare as possible, the craft behind the songs comes alive and Marc Almond, artiste, bares his soul and his prodigious talent. A collection of songs from the “As Live” soundtrack presents the songs in a band setting, but without the bells and whistles of the album renditions. These versions hold up particularly well as the band puts its own spin on things and Almond dials down the camp inherent in the Liverpool Philharmonic presentations. Disc Five follows the same template. The first four songs see Almond accompanied by solo keys or guitar, with percussion joining on an impassioned reading of Night and No Morning. The Lokerse Festival selections also feature a band, again putting their own stamp on each song, with Almond singing a bit more loosely. Several demos round out the disc, showing just how much Tenement Symphony was a producer’s album as much, if not more so, than the singer whose name is above the title. The plentiful liner notes detail how Almond ended up feeling like a guest on his own album, and you can understand why.

The final disc of music (there is also a DVD as part of the super deluxe edition) compiles additional dance mixes and backing tracks. Larrabee’s What Is Love? is a padded version of the mix on Disc Three. The Moody mixes of the same song are much more interesting, adding and subtracting from the album version to create something unique. The Harding/Coxon deconstruction of Jacky goes heavy on the dance mix tropes; oddly, it’s the Horn album version that packs the biggest dancefloor punch. The 12” mix of Beautiful Brutal Thing uses the song title to inform its changes, adding both a harder percussive edge and shimmering synths to build dynamism.  Finally, for all you karaoke fans, there are backing tracks of the four hits from the album.

As with any super deluxe version, your ability to wade through it all is directly proportional to your obsession for the album in the first place. With multiple versions of most songs from the Tenement Symphony album, you have your choice of original, extra large, condensed and spicy, studio and live for nearly every one. The best thing about having such a surfeit of material is that hardly any two versions sound alike. The live tracks are especially welcome in this regard, as Marc Almond and his bandmates seem allergic to providing carbon copies from one offering to the next. Over six hours of music, and rarely was I ever tempted to hit the skip button. The variety and imagination on display here makes the six discs an enjoyable experience start to finish. If only the box set included a fresh pair of dancing shoes.

DISC ONE: Tenement Symphony Album & B-Sides

01. Prelude (0:23)
02. Jacky (4:49)
03. What Is Love? (5:05)
04. Trois Chansons De Bilitis (0:54)
05. The Days of Pearly Spencer (4:22)
06. My Hand Over My Heart (5:15)
07. Meet Me in My Dream (4:24)
08. Beautiful Brutal Thing (5:02)
09. I’ve Never Seen Your Face (5:02)
10. Vaudeville & Burlesque (6:52)
11. Champagne (5:47)
12. Bruises (4:38)
13. Deadly Serenade (3:29)
14. Deep Night (7” Mix) (4:36)
15. A Love Outgrown (5:06)
16. Night and No Morning (5:15)
17. Money for Love (Ennio Mix) (4:51)

Time – 75:50

DISC TWO: Bonus Tracks and Remixes
01. Jacky (Youth 7” Remix) (4:53)
02. My Hand Over My Heart (Single Mix) (4:29)
03. The Days Of Pearly Spencer (The German 7” Mix) (2:59)
04. What is Love? (7” Edit) (4:19)
05. Like A Prayer (6:13)
06. Jacky (Youth 12” Remix) (7:46)
07. My Hand Over My Heart (Grit And Glitter Mix) (7:16)
08. Dancing in A Golden Cage (6:40)
09. Deep Night (12” Mix) (6:04)
10. Money for Love (Piddle Mix) (6:22)
11. Jacky (Alpine Dub) (4:48)
12. My Hand Over My Heart (John Coxon 12” Mix) (7:27)

Time – 69:16

DISC THREE: Tenement Symphony – Further Listening
01. My Hand Over My Heart (Special Radio Edit) (3:43)
02. What is Love? (Larrabee 5th Mix) (5:07)
03. Jacky (12” Phil Harding Dub) (4:52)
04. Deadly Serenade (Acoustic Mix) (3:33)
05. Beautiful Brutal Thing (7” Remix) (3:47)
06. Dancing in A Golden Cage (Mr B’s Supa Dub) (6:36)
07. My Hand Over My Heart (No Strings) (4:49)
08. Champagne (Early Version) (5:40)
09. Meet Me in My Dream (Rough Mix) (4:56)
10. What is Love? (Larrabee Echo Mix) (5:41)
11. Beautiful Brutal Thing (12” Techno Remix) (6:21)
12. My Hand Over My Heart (John Coxon Dub Mix) (5:10)
13. Champagne (Backing Track with Piano) (5:51)

Time – 66:06

DISC FOUR: Tenement Symphony Live 1992
01. Jacky (Live at Liverpool Philharmonic 1992) (3:28)
02. Meet Me in My Dream (Live at Liverpool Philharmonic 1992) (3:13)
03. Champagne (Live at Liverpool Philharmonic 1992) (4:01)
04. Vaudeville & Burlesque (‘As Live’ Video Soundtrack, Twelve Years of Tears, 1992) (7:28)
05. I’ve Never Seen Your Face (‘As Live’ Video Soundtrack, Twelve Years of Tears, 1992) (4:47)
06. Beautiful Brutal Thing (‘As Live’ Video Soundtrack, Twelve Years of Tears, 1992) (4:53)
07. Champagne (‘As Live’ Video Soundtrack, Twelve Years of Tears, 1992) (5:49)
08. Jacky (‘As Live’ Video Soundtrack, Twelve Years of Tears, 1992) (4:47)
09. The Days Of Pearly Spencer (‘As Live’ Video Soundtrack, Twelve Years of Tears, 1992) (4:31)
10. My Hand Over My Heart (‘As Live’ Video Soundtrack, Twelve Years of Tears, 1992) (5:53)
11. Meet Me In My Dream (‘As Live’ Video Soundtrack, Twelve Years of Tears, 1992) (4:36)

Time – 53:26

DISC FIVE: Tenement Symphony Live and Demos
01. Jacky (Live at the Union Chapel, 2000) (3:54)
02. The Days of Peary Spencer (Live at Leicester Cathedral, 2000) (2:35)
03. Champagne (Live at Leicester Cathedral, 2000) (2:54)
04. Night and No Morning (Live at Leicester Cathedral, 2000) (5:19)
05. Jacky (Live at The Lokerse Festival, 2000) (4:32)
06. My Hand Over My Heart (Live at The Lokerse Festival, 2000) (4:28)
07. The Days of Pearly Spencer (Live at The Lokerse Festival, 2000) (3:01)
08. Jacky (Live at The Playhouse Theatre, 2016) (3:46)
09. The Days of Pearly Spencer (Cowboy Version Demo) (4:21)
10. What is Love? (Demo) (4:00)
11. Jacky (Demo) (4:51)
12. My Hand Over My Heart (Orchestral Sections Demo) (4:22)
13. The Days of Pearly Spencer (Demo) (3:30)

Time – 51:33

DISC SIX: Tenement Dancehall… Plus!
01. What is Love? (12” Larrabee Vocal Mix) (6:11)
02. Jacky (12” Phil Harding & Ian Curnow Remix) (7:52)
03. What is Love? (Moody Vocal Mix) (4:56)
04. Beautiful Brutal Thing (12” Remix) (6:39)
05. What is Love? (Moody Vocal Mix #2) (5:03)
06. Jacky (Backing Track) (4:51)
07. My Hand Over My Heart (Backing Track) (5:17)
08. The Days of Pearly Spencer (Backing Track) (5:24)
09. What is Love? (Backing Track) (4:36)

Time – 50:49

Total Time – 370:00

MUSICIANS (Original Album)
Marc almond – Vocals
Dave Ball, Nigel Hine, Billy McGee, Anne Dudley, Bruce Wooley, Eric Caudieux, Trevor Horn, Nick Plytas – Keyboards, Synthesisers, Programming
Andy Duncan, Richard Norris – Drums & Percussion
Richard Riley, JJ Belle, Eric Caudieux, Mitch Dalton – Guitars
Trevor Horn, Tim Weidner – Bass
Phil Todd – Saxophone
Julian Stringle – Clarinet
Inga Humpe, Betsey Cooke, Bruce Wooley, Trevor Horn – Vocals

Record Label: Cherry Red Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 13th October 2023

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