Alma Mater is the best Factory record you never heard. Period. It existed on the fringe of Tony Wilson’s label by never cracking the British top 40, never producing a favoured single, and being completely outshined by other more definitive acts. The Monsters were eventually relegated to Factory’s (almost more interesting) continental imprint, Factory Benelux. So by the time of its release the band was receiving no favours from the ever-growing shadow of Ian Curtis (Buried) while “Blue Monday” was keeping Factory in the black. Wilson could stand to sign these lolling, recalcitrant brats.
Not that The Factory ever had any qualms in issuing records for their own sake, but The Stockholm Monsters were singular band full of naive musical skills and talentless vocals, which is probably why they were largely ignored. They straddle this border, strangely enough, between the echoing discomfort and sharp guitar jabs of A Certain Ratio and something resembling a more traditional, jigging Celtic shanty (which is a mess to consider in its own right). In this sense, one can also categorize their songs as dual in nature, either angular post-punk experiments or rather conventional, if not marginal, 80s English pop.
But something different is at work with “Soft Babies” and the song remains remarkable in The Monsters’ oeuvre. It is a trickster of a track, vacillating between the two distinct song forms they are known for. It commences with Graveyard and Ballroom bass and sensible, catchy pop keys before, at the halfway mark, it collapses into its own experimental instrumentation. Dischorded ballerina box piano and trumpet expand to create a dismissive and cheeky landscape replete with sparse drums and Eroll Flynn name dropping before picking itself up and marching on. We never really understand either.