Sometimes it can be a big drag when a band’s singer falls in love. As song after song on the latest cd pours out, detailing the ineffable greatness of the new flame and the sense of newfound contentment and everyday happiness, listening to it can be about as much fun as watching couples make out in a park where you’re trying to read a book or just think about your miserable lonely life.
But not Soft Spot by Clem Snide. It’s too pretty to complain about, and besides, I kind of like the singer’s new girlfriend. She looks critically at herself in the mirror; she gets colds and chapped lips; she seems to worry about aging—it’s hard to feel anything but warmth toward someone so human. Throughout the album, Eef Barzelay showers this vulnerable, anonymous person with songs of wholehearted love and devotion. “Summer will come, with Al Green and sweetened ice tea,” he sings emotionally on “All Green.” “Summer will come and be all green with the sweetness of thee.” “You’re the flower of my heart,” he sings on “Find Love,” somehow not sounding like a total idiot. “That my thoughts can’t tear apart. We have love, we have love/ strong enough to doubt.” There, in the last clause, is the skeptical, sometimes sarcastic note touched in so many other Clem Snide songs. But here, it’s consistently overridden by the singer’s brave embrace of emotion.
Mutual love, for some reason, isn’t a great subject for rock songs. “Gee, you’re swell,” as a feeling, just isn’t that interesting—aching regret, helpless addiction, yearning from afar, and bitter denunciation all seem to lend themselves more naturally to songwriting than the happiness that comes with genuine love. But Eef Barzelay turns that on its head. He’s exuberant in his expressions of affection, but the songs are also irresistible—effortlessly melodic and catchy. A swooping, romantic violin noodles around the melody in some, making them so liltingly memorable that they seem like future favorite dance tunes for contemporary couples to celebrate anniversaries to. (See, I’m hopelessly won over by this album, and I’m really bitter!) “There is nothing in this world if I can’t share my love with you,” goes the refrain on “There is Nothing,” a simple country ballad. “All the riches of this world, can’t compare to your smile/ and if only for a kiss, I would walk a thousand miles.” I could endlessly quote Barzelay’s mature, well expressed acceptance of love in its totality and the change that brings to one’s general outlook. The singer’s trademark cleverness is evident in many lines, but this time on the side of niceness, not meanness: “You could be coming down with something/ so I’ll come down, with you,” he sings to his chilled, sneezing love.
It’s not all gentle mellowness. There’s the fast, Elvis C. and the Attractions-ish rave-up, “Where There’s Love There’s Action,” a harmonica-driven rocker that’s about just really liking to be with somebody. And there’s the equally engaging “Happy Birthday,” a likable song for the band’s drummer. “Half-Jewish boys make kick-ass drummers,” Barzelay sings warmly, “but if you need lessons I’ll have to pay.” He seems full of real, open-hearted feeling for everyone on this record. Near the end he sings a quiet, finger-picked “Forever Young”-esque song (“Fontanelle”) which, like a benediction, hopes for the listener: “May God hold you in his hand.”
This cd didn’t leave my player for weeks after I got it. It’s uplifting, fun to sing along with, melodically beautiful, and love-soaked but not in a clichéd way.