Purple Zone
by Soft Cell and Pet Shop Boys

Writers - Almond/Ball/Mulhall
First released - 2022
Original album - Happiness Not Included (Soft Cell)
Producer - Soft Cell, Pet Shop Boys, Philip Larsen
Subsequent albums - (none)
Other releases - single (Soft Cell/Pet Shop Boys)

The classic British synth duo Soft Cell, consisting of vocalist Marc Almond and instrumentalist David Ball, released in May 2022 Happiness Not Included, their first new album in two decades. It includes "Purple Zone," a song that proved the fulfillment of several weeks of rumors when the Pet Shop Boys' website announced early the preceding March that it would be released later that month as a collaborative single between Soft Cell and the Boys, featuring vocals by both Marc and Neil as well as additional production by PSB. It would be released first digitally, but physical formats would soon follow.

Originally it was planned that the version of "Purple Zone" on Happiness Not Included would be Soft Cell's original non-collaborative "solo" rendition and that the collaboration would only be a single. But Almond later confirmed in an online statement that those plans had changed. He noted that he and Ball had come to regard the Soft Cell/PSB collaboration as "the definitive version" and that it would now appear on the CD edition of the album itself. They were even willing to delay the album's release in order to ensure that this newer version of the song could be included. (The original "non-PSB" version, however, remains on the vinyl edition of the album.)

Almond went on to describe the circumstances that led to this collaboration. "Neil and Chris… came to see Soft Cell on our last tour and loved the song 'Purple Zone' so much they wanted to do a mix of it and… it turned into a full-on collaboration! I felt that 'Purple Zone' was missing an ingredient and… it was the Pet Shop Boys!"

The official Soft Cell website describes the song as "yearning, airy pop [that] contrasts its uplifting sonics with Almond's darkly doomed lyrics." Those lyrics express a desire to escape a mundane, numbing, frustrating life, one of "no glory, no glamour, too many confusions coloring all my delusions"—a state labeled by Almond "the purple zone." As summarized in the recurring refrain:

Let's get out of this life
I'm afraid and all alone
Paralyzed in the purple zone

Almond and Tennant trade off on the lead vocals and at times sing in unison. Compared to the original, pre-PSB version of the song, the Boys' production speeds it up a bit and considerably beefs up the arrangement, most notably with a throbbing synth-bass line and those patented synth-horn stabs that characterized such PSB hits as "Always on My Mind" and "Go West." In many ways it's something of a throwback, but in the best possible way: highly reminiscent of dance classics from the late 1980s and early '90s, appropriate enough considering the sources. As described on the official PSB website, "Raising its tempo, Pet Shop Boys… added a hi-NRG sheen that elevates the track's moody melancholy, Chris Lowe's trademark high-drama synths producing a theatrical intensity." It's no wonder that the Soft Cell guys were so clearly pleased with the results.



Officially released

List cross-references