Album review: The Soft Pack – The Soft Pack (Heavenly)

It's been a while coming, but the San Diego quartet's debut just does the job

What, you mean this hasn’t been out already? No, but you might be forgiven for thinking so, and wondering what’s taken [a]The Soft Pack[/a] so long – there are bands in our top tips for 2010 that had their debut albums out before one of our hottest for 2009 (well done, [a]Delphic[/a]…). As such, rather than capitalising on the hype that their controversial name-change and the release of the brilliant ‘Muslims’ EP built, [a]Matt Lamkin[/a] and his boys are starting to seem almost old-hat just at the point where we should be most excited about them.

Forget that, though. Sounds like these cut through media overkill like Cillit Bang through dried-on egg. Take new single ‘C’mon’, a bushy-tailed and randy Richman-esque romp, bright and shiny as a new penny, casual harmonies as warm as sun on the back of your neck. ‘Down On Loving’’s shambolic Velvets fuzz and raw-edged riffola is as bouncy, bad and low-rent as a Ryanair mile-high club, and the equal of anything from ‘The Muslims’. [a]The Ramones[/a]-go-rockabilly garage of ‘Pull Out’, too, reminiscent of a less-depraved [a]Black Lips[/a] and ‘More Or Less’, all slinky leather-jacketed cool, drawl and spidery guitar, keep your heart rate rabbiting at the same fast, breathless pace.

By ‘Tides Of Times’, though, the attention starts to waver. It’s not that the songs are dull – far from it – it’s just that by now you’ve gathered that, feisty as it is, this is not a pony of many tricks, happy to trot along briskly with its retro rock blinkers and scuzz-guitar nosebag. It’s left to the frenetic, itchy ‘Flammable’ to pick the pace up before sleepy, sultry slowie ‘Mexico’ changes it and former single ‘Parasites’ rounds things off.

[a]The Soft Pack[/a] were aiming to make the perfect 30-minute debut – and if by ‘perfect’ you mean ‘solid, fun and well-crafted’, well, they have. Next to the first albums they held up as models, though – [a]Television[/a]’s ‘Marquee Moon’, [a]The Fall[/a]’s ‘Live At The Witch Trials’, [a]Wire[/a]’s ‘Pink Flag’ – ‘The Soft Pack’ looks a little flimsy. Those debuts were remarkable precisely because they nailed, straight from the off, a sound that was all their own. [a]The Soft Pack[/a], by comparison, sound like a perfectly balanced, expertly casual mix of half-a-dozen impeccable influences.

Is that a problem, though, when you’ve got the songs? Back in our new bands issue of 2009, Steven Wells observed that “with a name that shit, you better be ver-r-r-r-y good. [a]The Soft Pack[/a] are.” Similarly, if you’re going to make people wait so long for your debut, it better be worth it. ‘The Soft Pack’… just about is.

Much like the similarly unremarkable but similarly quite awesome [a]Phoenix[/a], [a]The Soft Pack[/a] are a band it’s hard to get really excited about. They’re the song that keeps you on the dance floor rather than the one that makes you scream with joy from its opening notes. They’re… alright. But you know what? That’s alright too. They may be strutting right down the middle of the road, but they look pretty damn cool doing it. [a]The Soft Pack[/a] make being A-OK into something to be proud of.

Emily Mackay