Album Review: The Soft Pack – Strapped

Categorised as MUSIC., REVIEWS.

‘Strapped’ is the third album from LA based San Diegons The Soft Pack, perhaps better known by their former moniker, The Muslims – alas, not for any sort of musical reason, but because it appears to be mentioned in every sodding article that gets written about them (N.B. I am aware of the irony at work here), seemingly on the grounds of its semi-humorous, pseudo-controversial implications.

On balance, this new LP delivers all that anyone familiar with TSP would expect and then some, but frustratingly it’s the ‘some’ – the quirkier, more innovative moments – that are a let down.

It all starts surefooted enough with ‘Saratoga’, a two-and-a-half-minute burst of guitar-grappling energy, galloping its way to the indie disco like it’s 2006 all over again (and not in a bad way). Same goes for everything up to lead single ‘Tallboy’, utilising The Pack’s lesser-heard keyboard skills more boldly and intricately than ever before. But things then take a dive five songs in with ‘Bobby Brown’, with relations unclear to the American R&B artist, and anything the four-piece are actually good at. Bewilderingly, despite its sparse, drab lyrics and hookless instrumentation, Spotify lists it as a single – arguably the second worst decision made by Mexican Summer this year after releasing that dreadful Best Coast album.

From this point, ‘Strapped’ struggles to regain the pace set by its opening tracks. ‘Chinatown’ and ‘Ray’s Mistake’ appear to start letting TSP’s well-worn ramshackle approach fall back into place until ‘Oxford Ave.’ buggers it all up by being the two-minute piece of lyric-less filler that it is. About the kindest thing you can say about it is that it sounds like a really bad Vampire Weekend song, but even that unnecessarily comes at the expense of Vampire Weekend.

The album’s latter half does have something to stick around for, though, in the form of ‘Everything I Know’, a showcase of The Pack’s more melodic and laidback side, sonically ending up somewhere in between The Smiths and The Walkmen. Its only fault is that you end up wishing there were more like it.

For existing fans, ‘Strapped’ is unlikely to appal, in fact anyone willing to cherry-pick the good from the bad will find it a perfectly decent album. But with the useless filler that’s on display amongst some really great songs, you can’t help but feel like The Soft Pack have once again missed their chance to assert themselves as more than just ‘that band who were once called The Muslims’.

Strapped is released on 1st October

William Dix

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