September 2002 • Rockbites Alternative Daily

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The Soft Boys serve up first new studio LP in 22 years
24 September 2002
On the comeback album for the ever-sardonic Soft Boys, Robyn Hitchcock delivers the most evocative vocal performance of his career.

London-born singer/composer/artist/writer Robyn Hitchcock, son of sci fi author Raymond Hitchcock, founded The Soft Boys in Cambridge, UK way back in 1976 by renaming Dennis And The Experts, his band at the time.
    He’d moved to Cambridge two years before as an art school dropout to play the folk club circuit. The newly formed Soft Boys—whose mysterious name isn’t much clarified by Hitchcock’s explanation, “...kind of crawling, bloodless, colorless things that crawled around like filleted human jellyfish around the corridors of power. Soft Boys controlled things but they had no spine. Basically insidious people and basically that’s what we were”—cut violently against the grain of the nascent UK punk zeitgeist. Rather than join the party inspired by Ann Arbor pre-punks The Stooges, Detroit’s MC5, and The New York Dolls, Hitchcock and company developed, instead, a highly melodic but penetrating sound that drew on The Byrds, Alex Chilton, John Lennon, Syd Barrett, Bob Dylan, and Don Van Vliet (Captain Beefheart).
    Hitchcock also shunned fashion by promoting subtlety, sexuality, layered meanings, existentialism, humor, and sardonicism when the kids were all over the revelation of raw aggression. But unlike also-subtle NYC contemporaries Television or Talking Heads, or even Manchester’s quirky, arty Magazine, The Soft Boys didn’t find the sort of financial backing to elevate them past cult status.
    Today, 22 years and many solo and side projects down the road, now hooked up with Beggars Group member Matador Records, the band release for the US their new studio LP Nextdoorland. It came out yesterday for the UK with the same track listing. They recorded it over the past year at London’s Gravity Shack studios with longtime collaborator, producer Pat Collier and a lineup that matches man-for-man that for 1980’s Underwater Moonlight (re-released in 2001): Hitchcock on vocals and guitar, Kimberly Rew on guitar, Matthew Seligman on bass, and Morris Windsor on drums.
    With stylistic repertoire, technical chops, and mastery of musical quotation second to none, The Soft Boys could’ve slacked off & still made some wonderful music. Instead, as they approach 50, they have put their hearts into it. Sure, they’ve leveraged hooks and imagery from their substantial back catalog—it’s all comfortable and recognizably them—but for all that baggage they remain light on their feet. The ten songs on Nextdoorland are fresh & effervescent.
    The album opens with the mostly instrumental I Love Lucy, reminding longtime fans just how extraordinary is the guitar interplay between Hitchcock and Rew, and how Hitchcock can paint a world in a phrase with rock and roll koans like “Carry me back to now.” That song sets the stage for the entomologically romantic Pulse Of My Heart, in which Hitchcock sings “Her wings are folded/ In her chrysalis/ But you can wake her/ With an all-night kiss....”
    Living up to high expectations based on their past work, on Nextdoorland the band have fully realized every song without killing its emotional essence. And Hitchcock is at the peak of his game in terms of his evocative vocal delivery. Always the masterful storyteller, imbuing every word with pages of meaning with a surprise inflection, a counterpoint modulation, or subversive pacing, on this set he outdoes himself. If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to be synesthetic, feeling colors or tasting notes, listen on headphones, with eyes closed, to Hitchcock’s voice and watch the movies playing against the back of your eyelids.
    There’s also some devastating, dark political humor here, in the song Strings, as Hitchcock cuts to the quick of the George W. Bush-led parade against civil liberties and human rights in the name of combatting 'evil,' concluding “I wish that I was just paranoid.”
    Five bites out of five.

Rockbites ratings  5: life changing, 4: stunning, 3: captivating, 2: amusing, 1: annoying.

The Soft Boys play a couple of dates next month in England before staging a painfully short tour of the US, hitting only Atlanta, Hoboken, New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. See the band’s Website for details. If you make it to a show you can pick up the five-song 'Side Three' EP for Nextdoorland. | The Soft Boys | | Robyn Hitchcock | | fan site | | Mr. Kennedy (full length MP3) | | CD from Amazon US | | bio | | top of page |


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