Monday, June 1, 2020
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Soft Riot: When Push Comes To Shove

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Artist: Soft Riot (@)
Title: When Push Comes To Shove
Format: 12" vinyl + CD
Label: Possession Records (@)
Rated: *****

Soft Riot is Jack Duckworth (JJD); a former Vancouverite who has clocked over fifteen years of musical output in various bands and projects. Moving from Vancouver to London, UK, in the late 2000s, Soft Riot came into full being, having released a couple of acclaimed albums and EPs and staging numerous tours around Europe. Soft Riot now has set up camp in Sheffield, UK; a city with a history of innovative synthesizer music.

While Soft Riot's previous album - 'The Outsider In The Mirrors' was a marked step up from earlier material (which often sounded amateurish and tenuously experimental), 'When Push Comes To Shove' is the first Soft Riot album that doesn't sound like it strictly came from Demoville. Now there are a few things you have to understand about Soft Riot if you haven't heard it before. This is much more "Cold Wave" than synthpop. Coldwave is characterized by its detached lyrical tone and somewhat minimal (and usually analogue) synthesizers, as well as drum machines and/or programmed electronic percussion. Think of (mid-to-late period) Kraftwerk, John Foxx ('Metamatic' period), KaS Product, Marquis de Sade, Lebanon Hanover, early (pre-'Dare') Human League, Suicide, and outfits along those lines. Of course, vocal quality of the aforementioned is quite variable, and perhaps less important (and consequently less "pop" or popular) than it is in synthpop. Depeche Mode, OMD, Camouflage, Erasure, etc. were never really Coldwave, always synthpop. This distinction is important, because as a synthpop artist, Soft Riot would miss the mark more often than not. In Cold Wave, Soft Riot is at the top of its game. While there's an unbridled enthusiasm on 'The Outsider In The Mirrors' it lacks that certain something that makes an album compelling.

'When Push Comes To Shove' starts off strong with "Taking Off The Edge" grabbing the listener's attention with a 'less is more' technique and a memorable synth riff. The galloping rhythm of "It's No Laughing Matter" reminds me of Telex (remember them?) and that's pretty cool. JJD's somewhat monotone voice is like John Foxx filtered through the spirit of Ian Curtis, and then put through Ralf Hütter's voice box; distant and remote, the way Cold Wave ought to sound. I couldn't help but notice that something sounded out of tune in "The Lost Weekend," and in places there's just too much going on. I don't know if it's too much compression, but it sometimes sounds a bit mushy and packed too tightly. Otherwise it's a decent tune. "Fate's Got A Bone To Pick With You" takes a more minimal approach which works well. Good no frills dance beat too. "By The Skin Of Your Teeth" reminds me of Bill Nelson's more experimental electropop, post Be-Bop Deluxe and Red Noise. The vocal could have been a bit more up-front in places on "Don't Get Yourself Bent Out of Shape" as the synths nearly drowns the voice out at times. The most promising potential (hit) single off this album would be "Heads Turn Around" as it's very simple, has a dynamite hook and a relentless beat. Shave a minute or so off it and ship it to college radio stations. I guarantee it would get plenty of airplay. Final track, "Your Work Is Never Done" tries too hard to breech the synthpop genre and gets caught up in its own ambition leaving the album on a weak note.

There is definitely some very good material on 'When Push Comes To Shove,' but I think Mr. Duckworth might benefit from a savvy producer for Soft Riot’s next effort. Definitely a must for Cold Wave fans, I'd recommend the vinyl format even though it is a bit pricey. Then again, what vinyl isn't these days.