Clem Snide frontman Eef Barzelay occasionally gets pigeonholed as a self-consciously clever ironist, a tag that leads some to view his songs as window dressing for hollow exercises in wordplay. But that misconception ignores the warmth at the root of his work: "Joan Jett Of Arc," from 2001's outstanding The Ghost Of Fashion, uses '80s pop-culture references and silly puns as a framing device, but the song's touchingly sweet romantic nostalgia adds up to far more than the sum of its lyrical gimmicks. If Barzelay really is just an arch hipster, then Clem Snide's new Soft Spot is that much more admirably fearless in its unwavering sincerity. A concise collection of gentle love songs written for Barzelay's wife and new baby, the album conveys an emotional directness that's unmistakably good-hearted, both on the surface and at its core. Even when Barzelay indulges his jones for wordplay–"Summer will come, with Al Green and sweetened iced tea / Summer will come, and be all green with the sweetness of thee"–it's in service of disarmingly nice songs and sentiments. Though it lacks the thematic and tonal diversity of The Ghost Of Fashion, Soft Spot finds Clem Snide at its most instrumentally expansive, lavishing the album's 11 songs in a soothing coat of strings, horns, "orchestral scenery," and other whistles and bells. (Especially bells, given the ubiquity of chimes, toys, vibraphones, and glockenspiels here.) But only rarely does Joe Chiccarelli's busy production cross the line into fussiness, or drain a song of its warmth: "Tuesday, October 24th" gets a tropicalia feel that never really gathers momentum, but virtually everything else coheres wonderfully. Barzelay threatens to cross the line separating sweetness and mawkishness throughout, but he even pulls off the dreaded message-from-father-to-son ("Happy Birthday"), which finds him hoping "that your friends are true and funny / and your girlfriends are sweet, and wear tight pants." Appropriately, Soft Spot works best when it's at its softest, on deceptively simple ballads rooted in emotional maturity: "Close The Door," "Find Love" ("Find love / and give it all away"), and "Strong Enough" ("We have love / strong enough to doubt") all rank among Clem Snide's finest moments. Soft Spot's ultimate legacy may be its ability to frame its fine predecessors in perspective, baring a warm heart that's been secretly beating all along.