SOFT BOYS

THE CHRIS & TAD SHOW

Crocodile Cafe, 206-441-5611, $15

9 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 31

ARTISTICALLY SPEAKING, most rock 'n' roll reunions could, at

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Seems Like Old Times

Back with their first new album in 22 years, the Soft Boys return to a world that feels eerily familiar.

SOFT BOYS

THE CHRIS & TAD SHOW

Crocodile Cafe, 206-441-5611, $15

9 p.m. Thurs., Oct. 31

ARTISTICALLY SPEAKING, most rock 'n' roll reunions could, at best, be described as unfulfilling—if not occasionally disastrous. But back in 2000 when the Soft Boys re-formed for a U.S. tour marking the 20th anniversary of their classic Underwater Moonlight, the British quartet, at the very least, proved the band rightly deserves its place in the pantheon of cult combos.

Two years later, the band has returned with a new album, Nextdoorland—which, not so surprisingly, picks up right where that last great Soft Boys record left off. Granted, Robyn Hitchcock's lyrics have aged to a point where they're less comically psychotic—though they still spotlight what the songwriter terms a "low level mania." More melancholic than paranoid, the album paradoxically showcases a band that actually sounds like it's having fun.

"I think we did before, in a way," says Hitchcock. "But the feel of it has changed. The connections and currents of energies between all of us have altered slightly. And I think [guitarist] Kimberly [Rew] and I are probably more comfortable with each other than before. Perhaps we're more comfortable with ourselves, but we're all collaborating rather than competing. But it's still driven by that same idea: You've got very strict stereo separation—Kim's on the right; I'm on the left. The idea is to put your head in the middle and you get a fairly good experience, guitarwise.

"The song 'Strings' is closest to the old Soft Boys—actually, to the Can of Bees kinda Soft Boys—because it's so very manic. And it's very much a band co-write. I think the planes went into the Twin Towers about halfway through recording it. It's been heavily edited since then—a whole lot of stuff we took out. The original version is about nine minutes long, which was too long, we decided."

Manic or psychotic, the band seems to have a knack for latching onto any decade's zeitgeist of paranoia. On the 2000 Underwater Moonlight tour, Hitchcock dedicated "I Wanna Destroy You" to then newly "elected" (or whatever) Commander in Chief George W. Bush. Similarly, "Lions and Tigers," the new LP's closing track, sounds like pure Hitchcock Dadaism at first, until you listen a bit closer to the lyrics.

"I thought if I was too specific, it would spoil it," he says. "But 'the Keeper with the beak and eyes too close together' is obviously George W. Bush. I hate to interpret my songs too much—either they happen or they don't. I really wish I was able to write political songs in the way that Billy Bragg sometimes can or a lot of rappers do. But it's really not my gift to do that. I wish someone was writing songs right now like [Dylan's] 'Masters of War.' I don't think anybody is, but maybe that's because the truth is so bad that nobody wants to hear it.

"Whenever I try to encapsulate the political situation, though, it comes out really dour: 'The world is run by greedy bastards who will be the death of us all.' Either you know that already, or you're never going to know. So the closest I get is oblique references like, 'Love me tender on the roof/Afterwards there'll be no proof,' which was inspired by those poor people jumping off the [World Trade Center] hand in hand. Or 'Lions and Tigers meet the same fate as each other.' Which is [about] Christian fundamentalism vs. Islamic fundamentalism."

THE SOFT BOYS' clever pop constructions were essentially ignored during their original brief existence, which came smack-dab in the middle of the U.K. punk explosion. Only after the band's demise was its enormous influence cited by the likes of R.E.M., the Replacements, the Paisley Underground scene, and numerous Britpop groups. With the recent Sex Pistols reunion shows critically condemned and the Soft Boys universally praised, it must feel like a justice of sorts, right?

"Well, what has helped us with time, I think, is the rediscovery or re-appreciation of the Beatles, and with that comes vocal harmonies, guitar melodies, and so on. Our best songs—'Kingdom of Love,' 'Insanely Jealous,' 'Queen of Eyes'— always strove for that pop sensibility. Of course, things will change again if the Beatles ever go out of vogue."

"You have to remember when we recorded Underwater Moonlight, Reagan had just been elected president and Russia had invaded Afghanistan," he recalls. "We thought the world was coming to an end back then."

And so the more things change. . . . Oh well, praise the Lord and pass the Rickenbackers.

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