erasing clouds

Clem Snide, Soft Spot

reviewed by casey ward

Eef Barzelay, frontman for the delightfully unrefined Clem Snide, a band that incessantly defies categorization, is one of our most exciting and sincere contemporary lyricists. When he sings, with his deucedly lilting and nasal voice, on his new album Soft Spot - a collection of 11 love songs - any doubts the listener may have had hitherto about his earnestness are almost immediately dispelled. On the band's two previous albums, Your Favorite Music and The Ghost of Fashion, I had enjoyed wading through the many pop-culture references, dense irony, absurdist wit, and mostly toothless cynicism to a warm, pulsing core of genuine emotion. Their seeming insignificance is, as the close listener of those two albums will discover, illusory.

Perhaps in an effort to court those listeners at first repelled by Barzelay's ironic wordplay, Clem Snide chose to record Soft Spot - a surprisingly clear and polished album dealing with the causes and effects of love. The record is, admittedly, slow to start. It drifts through three forgettable tracks before delivering the sparse "Close the Door," a lover's simple, casual request for emotional openness and trust. On "There is Nothing," featuring the complimentary backing vocals of Mary Olive Smith, Barzelay gives my favorite delivery on the album ("All the riches of the world/ Can't compare with your smile"). Sang in his awkward tenor, the saccharine words become an honest and powerful declaration of love.

The next track, "Strong Enough," builds off the same sweetness ("You're the flower of my heart/ That my thoughts can't tear apart"). After the rollicking, humorous "Happy Birthday," on which at least 12 instruments are used, comes "Fontanelle," easily the strongest track of the album. Liberally sampling from a traditional Irish blessing, Barzelay - alone with his guitar - prays for a lover's future peace and joy. The unadorned song showcases exactly what I love about Barzelay - the underlying hope and goodwill in every single word he sings.

Though you won't find a track on Soft Spot to rival the aching beauty of "Messiah Complex Blues," nor the wonderful silliness of the adolescent ballad, "Joan Jett of Arc," there are enough heartfelt songs on the latter half of the album to renew your faith in not only Clem Snide, but also in love's grace.


Issue 15, September 2003

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