Saturday, March 13, 2010

Soft Boys 2: Underwater Moonlight

Underwater Moonlight is one of those albums that gets called a lost classic, mostly because it barely sold when it was first released. But there were enough record store geeks who championed it, and these were likely the same ones who enabled Robyn Hitchcock to maintain a solo career in the first place. For the rest of us, who got into his career from the other end, it’s an essential purchase.
The main thing about it is that the concentration seems to be more on “straight” rock, leaving the absurdities of earlier Soft Boys records to the lyrics and titles. For starters, “I Wanna Destroy You” is a powerful opener, all major chords and harmonies and fantastic bass until the disembodied ending. “Kingdom Of Love” is a fairly standard boogie song, and one that would resurface again and again throughout the following decade. There’s even a sitar on “Positive Vibrations”, which predicts the psychedelic throwback phase of the mid-‘80s. “I Got The Hots” alternates between a creepy verse and a much more tuneful other section, relying on wacky rhymes. His singing has become very confident on “Insanely Jealous”, even when he’s trying to keep up with all the words he’s written himself.
“Tonight” isn’t much on the surface, but it’s still a toe-tapper, right up to the phlanged effect on the fade. The “angular” sound returns on “You’ll Have To Go Sideways”, a speedy exercise in riffing over an odd meter with conflicting voices in the keyboards. Followed by “Old Pervert”, the side has taken a distinctively twisted turn. Luckily, “Queen Of Eyes” sounds just like the Byrds. The title track borrows its melody from “First There Was A Mountain”, and is about either a couple of statues who go for a swim, or two human lovers that drown themselves. Whatever it is, it gives Robyn a chance to talk about fish again.
Its charms aren’t immediately apparent, but of the two official Soft Boys albums, Underwater Moonlight is closest to the Egyptians sound, and not because it involves the same people. As with everything else Robyn’s done, it has been reissued, with different add-ons, every decade or so, making it more widely available to people who wanted to hear what all the music snobs were going on about. Rykodisc added eight bonus tracks, and then Matador added a ninth, plus a disc of rehearsals called …And How It Got There. The current Yep Roc edition pares it back to the original LP sequence, but also offers a download access to all 30 tracks that had appeared in previous reissues.

The Soft Boys Underwater Moonlight (1980)—
1992 Rykodisc reissue: same as 1980, plus 8 extra tracks
2001 …And How It Got There edition: same as 1992, plus 18 extra tracks

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