By Tom Bishop
BBC News Online
Marc Almond interprets Russian folk songs on his latest solo album
British pop singer Marc Almond hit the big time in the 80s with his group Soft Cell and hits including Tainted Love, and now he aims to reclaim the charts with his latest album, Heart on Snow.
Almond's success was sealed when Soft Cell sold 10 million records worldwide.
But the electropop duo fell apart in 1984 after Almond and Dave Ball developed a taste for drugs and a distrust of record firms.
Almond's addiction continued for a further 12 years until two associates tried to throw him from a sixth-floor window - a brush with death that led him to seek professional help.
Since his rehabilitation the torch singer has been more prolific than ever - writing, performing, temporarily reforming Soft Cell and telling (almost) all in his autobiography Tainted Life.
His audacious solo albums have spanned Las Vegas cabaret, French chanson, glam rock, sea shanties and exotic pop, yielding a number one hit with the Gene Pitney duet Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart.
For his latest project Almond went to St Petersburg to interpret traditional Russian romance songs. Joined by acclaimed local performers, Heart on Snow may have become his most ambitious album so far.
"Back in the early 1990s, when I first toured Russia, people handed me cassettes of Russian songs and encouraged me to listen to them," he explains.
"Though I didn't understand the language, the passion and emotion of the songs came through.
"Later, when the lyrics were translated to me and I learned of the struggles and hardship the songwriters had endured, the recordings touched me deeply. I knew one day I wanted to sing some of them."
The opportunity came when Russian producer Misha Kucherenko suggested Almond record the album with a simple piano accompaniment, principally for Slavic fans.
But as the project gained momentum an increasing number of Russian artists were keen to collaborate.
These included Lyudmilla Zykina - who sang for leaders including Nikita Kruschev and President Putin - and Alla Bayanova, who was banished from Russia in 1917 following the October Revolution.
What began as a simple work had become a major undertaking, with a full orchestra throwing its weight behind proceedings.
As if the grandeur and nightlife of St Petersburg were not enough to reflect Almond's own musical obsessions, he enlisted Russia's naval cadet choir to add beefy backing.
The singer says Russian listeners reacted "kindly and enthusiastically" to his versions of their beloved songs.
"I believe they forgive a great deal because they recognise the respect I have shown in trying the best I can, enthusiastic that someone is at least trying to take their music to a wider audience."
Almond's foray into folk has inspired him to buy an apartment in Moscow but he has not fallen out of love with pop music.
"I have found myself getting passionate about pop," he states, "but I don't think that depth of feeling is required. In fact it is probably detrimental to creating great pop.
"Of course pop music is the best way to get widespread audiences but the irony is it has the least to say."
Heart on Snow is released on the Blue Star record label