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The Soft Boys | Nextdoorland (Matador)
There is a party and nearly everyone is there. Amid the hubbub you look for him, the one who will enliven it, to draw you from the kitchen and make you feel at home. He saunters in; looking and sounding like always and with a strangeness that is hard to fathom. He's quiet at first, barely speaking, just letting the jagged guitars of I Love Lucy duel around as he settles down and leans against the mantelpiece. It's a reassuring sound with more angles than a protractor and it draws you and the other guests in. "You can set your watch by me I'm a regular guy," he declares in the oozing smoothness of Pulse Of My Heart and you know you're in safe hands, relaxing amid the wah-wah guitars. Soon you're being regaled and enthralled with tales from his travels, which is why he's been gone so long. He's been "riding in the van with Sebadoh" in the company of the enigmatic Mr Kennedy, his parched voice pondering the chances of a downpour as he journeys along in this evocative odyssey where the guitars gather like dense clouds before they evaporate in the sizzle of rain on hot tarmac, leaving you quenched and breathless. The party has warmed up enough now for the Tom Petty (or The Strokes for younger readers) chime of Unprotected Love, its twisted words wrapped in harmonies that spin your head. Still heading for the steamy south he rasps My Mind Is Connected To Your Dreams and proceeds to prove it with talk of "the skull of Africa", an emerging butler and "the horn of Florida", all underpinned by a woozy wowing bass line that if it wasn't so hypnotic would make you queasy. You're so wrapped in this sultry world that when he screams "it's only a poisonous plant and it's calling your name," you're ready to answer it, machete in hand. From here he takes you to a Sudden Town where the "poles that can only be used for overhead wiring" jangle bleakly against the unfamiliar sky. Despite these strange surroundings you find yourself bouncing along to the story, its rhythms sweep you along and you join in when the ghouls start to sing. The light fades and Strings clatters with a darkness as if pulled in four different direction, causing it to zigzag drunkenly along the streets and hauling you into the seedy underside of the city where Radiohead play the Pistols, sneering "I wish that I was paranoid" from somewhere in the shadows. It's from out of these that the Japanese Captain emerges to sail you away to the soft swirls of La Cherite, "softly strumming under a lemon moon". That serenade means it's almost time to get your coat with just the knowledge that Lions And Tigers "meet the same fate as each other," to pack you off into the night as the glasses are washed. His stories may not make perfect sense and after being away for so long you'd like more, but it's good to have someone that brightens any gathering, regardless of location and age, sounding sharper than many youngsters. Be it your favourite uncle, or maybe he is a dear long lost friend, the Soft Boys are just that person.

Laurence Arnold
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002