Misery, complaints, self-pity, injustice — the utter joy of Soft Cell’s Non-Stop Exotic Video Show, just rereleased for the first time on DVD, lies in its naivete. Which is a trite thing to say on the one hand and something perfectly apt on the other. It’s a standard trope regarding early eighties videos from anywhere that they were throw-everything-in-plus-the-kitchen-sink affairs due to the medium’s theoretical newness, an assumption that actually can be challenged all the way down the line on a number of fronts.

But Tim Pope, who went on to become the Cure’s video director for something like a decade and a half, showed himself early on to have those same gifts that were evident later — not seeming chaos so much as an attempt to throw in storylines alternately relentlessly focused on the lyrics and taking them at an angle. It didn’t hurt that Soft Cell were all nervous energy and flamboyant hamminess — Marc Almond seems alternately surprised that there’s a camera filming his every move and relentlessly ready to own it, starpower consolidated after a year’s worth of surprise hits, while Dave Ball contentedly sits behind his keyboards with his tape reel, but more than happy to flash smiles or grins, or else actually become something like the chief actor in a scenario while Marc takes care of the singing part.

And so the whole thing is presented as a video revision of nearly the entire Non-Stop Erotic Cabaret album — minus “Sex Dwarf,” whose tabloid noteriety is constantly sent up throughout the whole thing thanks to the many skits and bumpers between the videos themselves. Marc reads one of the tabloid reports with the air of a gasping, shocked figure, Marc and Dave stop by a hardcore video booth locale and ask to see the production in question, etc. etc. Of course, what they finally do show is the brief alternate video featuring Marc and Dave and two shorter folks all dressed to the nines in formal wear and singing/playing along to the music books and stands in front of them — just another night at the Proms.

Sometimes things ARE all over the place — “Entertain Me,” which opens it all up, seems staffed by a slew of escapees from an Adam Ant production (no bad thing). “What?,” groovy cameo by Mari Wilson aside (she really did know how to work the beehive), is all Pop-Art and fourth wall nuttiness, works well enough but one can sense the band just wanting to get the cover over and done with. As for “Tainted Love,” combining Caligula with cricket at Lords must have been the result of the band going “We’re already SICK of the albatross, can we move on please?”

But then again there’s the perfectly appropriate super-8 editing collage of movies-on-tour that makes up “Memorabilia,” the nearly hyperliteral “Say Hello Wave Goodbye,” which is indeed shown from the start with Dave standing at the door of the Pink Flamingo. The two spot-on highpoints take completely different tacks — “Bedsitter” features Marc in a cramped studio set perfectly appropriate for the song’s setting, nicely capturing that sense of savage torpor which makes words and music fit so well together, nervous energy with no real outlet. “Youth,” in contrast, is just Marc’s face with childhood films — maybe of him, maybe of someone else entirely — chroma-key projected onto it, a one-take effort that stops the frenetic energy of the collection. The song is always the amazing joker in the pack on the album, the ghost of Marc’s two decades later self channeled backward into a shockingly great meditation on the ravages of time, just so.

So there was naivete on this collection, people trying something to see what could work. The nice thing is that, quite often, it did.

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