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First Impression: The Soft Boys, Nextdoorland

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I’ve been thinking about long broken-up bands getting who get back together (I’m agin’ it). This line of thought was inspired by the impending release of Nextdoorland, the new album from The Soft Boys. I will admit to going against principle and catching them on the Underwater Moonlight Reissue Tour, but only because I convinced myself that it was a one off, and that Hitchcock would go back to making his increasingly worthless albums while Rew would return to, Ill, wherever he’d been hiding. And, you know, I really wanted to see them. When the announcement came that there would be a new album I felt vaguely cheated, but mostly concerned that the recording would detract from the band’s not inconsiderable legacy.

Now you can certainly make the argument that since pretty much all of The Soft Boys’ material was written by Hitchcock anyway (and that his longtime backing band, The Egyptians, was essentially The Soft Boys minus Rew), Nextdoorland is simply a continuation of what he’s been doing for the last twenty-five years. But to me, a band is more than just members and songwriters: it’s the whole vibe, the je ne sais quoi that a group of people, working together at a specific moment in time, make you feel about their music.

So it was with great trepidation that I picked up Nextdoorland. I was especially dubious because I had heard some of the new material on the tour, and it left me cold. Well, I was wrong about that: those songs have been reworked and refined and I may even find myself humming them. The opening track actually does have The Soft Boys vibe. The rest of the album? Not so much. There’s little in the way of innovation, either, although the production sounds a bit more “full.”

It’s always dangerous to generalize about a record after only a few listens, but here I go (and I reserve the right to revisit the topic at a later date): this is the best batch of songs Robyn Hitchcock has released in a long time, but it does not feel like a Soft Boys record. It is, in fact, a very high-quality Robyn Hitchcock record. Which is not a bad thing. I just wish he’d put it out under his own name.

This review appears in slightly modified form at The Minor Fall, The Major Lift.

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