They say behind every good man is a great woman. In the case of Steve Clarke, that woman is Rachel Goswell of Slowdive. Clarke had his 15 minutes of fame in ‘00s pop punk boyband The Dum Dums (yep, we forgot they existed too) before going on to become a session musician and tour manager.
When Clarke took on Slowdive as a client his life would hit an unexpected upswing, both personally and professionally. Within a year of meeting, Clarke and Goswell were living together, eventually marrying in 2018. Clarke cites Goswell as “the catalyst,” for The Soft Cavalry. “I’d always had ideas but never felt that anything I had to say was worthy of anyone’s attention, let alone my own.”
Clarke’s new-found muse slowly blossomed into a collection of songs for which even he couldn’t deny providence, and so The Soft Cavalry was born with the help of keyboardist Jesse Chandler (Mercury Rev, Midlake), guitarist Tom Livermore, drummer Stuart Wilkinson and multi-instrumentalist/album producer Michael Clarke – Steve’s brother.
There is an intimacy to The Soft Cavalry which perhaps can only be drawn from these two distinct strands of family: the chosen and the given, both of which often live in the unspoken.
If you had said that one of the most refined rock albums of 2019 would come from an ex-member of one of the most forgettable bands of the ‘00s you’d have been laughed out of town, but if Brexit has tauught us anything at all it’s that life is much, much stranger than fiction.
The Soft Cavalry’s eponymous debut is a lush, cinematic collection of power pop ballads. The type of serious record many Britpop musicians went solo in the hopes of producing, but were eventually scuttled by their lack of talent and/or experience. Clarke’s wayward journey through life, however, delivers a perspective his pampered peers could never draw upon.
There are echoes of Bernard Butler and Super Furry Animals on Dive, Passerby sees Goswell and Clarke flanked by sweeping orchestration and harpsicord, while single Bulletproof featuring Goswell’s plaintive vocals is a meld of latter-day New Order and Doves.
However, you shouldn’t mistake the Soft Cavalry for some sort of schmaltzy duets record; Steve Clarke is the star of the show even if he thinks he’s the supporting actor. The Soft Cavalry may never trouble the charts, but it is very much the type of record that songwriters will try to replicate and grumble about their failure to over pints for years to come.