Today’s Song: Soft Plastics Play in Campy Fugue on “Rope off the Tigers”

“Rope off the Tigers” by Soft Plastics is a campy, seedy, ridiculous display of unhinged mariachi and new wave Spaghetti Western themes.
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Listen: “Rope off the Tigers” – Soft Plastics

If you listen to “Rope off the Tigers,” you might find yourself wondering where on the southern border this was recorded.

The answer lies to the North; Carey Mercer, Melanie Campbell, and Shyla Seller are all that remains from the independent Canadian post-punk outfit Frog Eyes. The band’s output always seemed to deserve more than their Spotify listener count, racking up honorable mention after honorable mention. Mercer wondered aloud one day if their band’s path had come to a neat and tidy end. The resultant Violet Psalms was an esoteric final resting place somewhere between Nick Cave, Tom Waits, and Peter Gabriel.

Rope off the Tiger – Soft Plastics

The epitaph read simple: the Frog Eyes are dead. Long live the Frog Eyes.

In quick succession, Carey Mercer reorganized what was left into what was next: Soft Plastics. To re-initiate interest from fans, their leading single from the re-debut, 5 Dreams, is like a love-letter to post-punk mariachi bands world over. And that might just be them in such a category.

Mercer’s voice delivers the camp. “Rope off the tigers!” he bellows and hisses. His voice traditionally a cross-reference between Nick Cave and Peter Gabriel. On the leading single for their latest project from Paper Bag Records, this is no different; he’s just as notoriously serpentine in style and Puckish in character. Without effect, he sings naked and supple.  It attempts to reach a note it can’t on the word of calamity. This is kind of funny. He operates in constant misdirection. The composition leads off with a refrain in the verse, follows with a bridge and then slithers into more verses repeating with gusto: “Rope off the tigers!”

Rope off the tigers
A whim of my liege
And their wildness is soaring
They’re on bad E
And their wicked slobber
Has infected me
I’ll crawl to the doctor
And I’ll suss out his sleaze

This seedy, confounding storytelling makes well for a cryptic fractured Western theme. Combine with Melanie Campbell’s twitching kick-and-tom-tom march, infuse with mariachi horns, embellish with a soft backing choir and it all begins to sound like new wave Ennio Morricone. There is no sense in putting this to a Fistful of Dollars or Once Upon a Time in the West, but there’s all the sense in hearing this song in a soundtrack of a new school Shanghai Noon remake.

The press release credits Blixa Bargeld, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Talk Talk, and Happy Mondays for the making of this new record. The cocktail recipe is obtuse: a former Bad Seed, a Japanese virtuoso, an English new wave/post-rock touchstone, and a Madchester rave standard-bearer. They all mix the messaging for the latest long-player from Carey Mercer and co. But supposing the lyrics and the history, it’s all on-brand.

My hope lashed to the lash-tower
Such a thing as birds borne on the breeze
Danced and twirled as the sun beaconed strength
Employees in the mangrove maze
Unhinged with hospitality

By song’s end, it’s all confused. Having a good time means losing one’s mind. reverting to the beast. Letting go means drinking someone else’s tea. Working the crowd means locking up the zoo. Hope means receiving a lashing. Post-Punk means playing the mariachi. And “Rope off the Tigers” means only one thing: the Soft Plastics are alive.

Long live the Soft Plastics.

Listen: “Rope off the Tigers” – Soft Plastics

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