|1. I Wanna Destroy You|
|2. Kingdom Of Love|
|3. Positive Vibrations|
|4. I Got The Hots|
|5. Insanely Jealous|
|7. You Have Got To Go Sideways|
|8. Old Pervert|
|9. The Queen Of Eyes|
|10. Underwater Moonlight|
See all 19 tracks on this disc
|1. Old Pervert - Section 1|
|2. Like A Reak Smoothie|
|4. Bloat (Extract)|
|5. Underwater Moonlight|
|6. She Wears My Hair|
|7. Wang Dang Pig|
|8. Old Pervert - Section 2|
|9. Insanely Jealous|
|10. Leave Me Alone|
See all 16 tracks on this disc
The music is superb in its own right, but coupled with Hitchcock's surreal and genuinely funny lyrics this is guitar pop at its cleverest and most infectious.
If you don't have it yet (and most of you won't - hardly anyone ever did), you should buy two copies; one for yourself and one for your best friend. See, this is not just any old album that you can invite people to simply take home for a weekend. Oh no!
So what does it sound like?
Underwater Moonlight sounds like nothing on earth so much as Monty Python, backed by the Byrds or (in the Soft Boys' tougher moments) the Kinks. If that isn't enough to suck you in, just listen to the first four tracks. Simply, my life was never the same again after hearing I Wanna Destroy You for the first time. This is punk, but not punk: it's noisy but arty, deadly serious in its content but utterly hilarious in its delivery, and it has vocal harmonies from outer space. It's fabulous.
Then there's Kingdom of Love. It starts off quiet and ends in a joyful rapture, with a brilliant snaking guitar lead that coils and uncoils itself as Robyn Hitchcock surrenders himself to the most confusing of human emotions: "You've been laying eggs under my skin/now they're hatching out under my chin/now there's tiny insects showing through/and all them tiny insects look like you." Python's Terry Gilliam would have made a great cartoon sequence out of it.
Positive Vibrations was written on the day Robyn's dog died. Thatcher and Reagan had just been elected and Robyn wanted to shoo all that awfulness away, so he sat down and wrote this little hippie anthem at a time when everyone hated hippies. It features possibly the only excusable sitar solo in rock history, is the fastest song on the album, and is catchier than typhoid.
I Got the Hots, by way of contrast, is a creeping sleazoid crawl. I won't bother to describe it further; just quote the following: "Said the dentures to the peach/said the tide of filth to the bleach/said the spike to the tomato/said the curry to the corpse/I got the hots for you." And that's just the first verse.
Insanely Jealous is more lyrical flights of fancy over a heartbeat bass and a quivering violin. It builds into a demented rage of guitars with Robyn babbling about being jealous of everything from the people that you love to the fingers in your glove. He sounds like he means it too, which is the scary bit.
Tonight is a romantic trip to a harmonic heaven about which no more needs to be said.
You'll Have To Go Sideways is an instrumental number, an oddity for a band for whom lyrics play such a big role. But it's another highlight on an album stuffed with gems, compelling and unsettling in that, for once, it leaves everything unsaid. It's mysterious and beautiful.
Have I mentioned Kimberley Rew yet? Kimberley plays lead guitar like, as Hitchcock once described, "Hendrix in sulphuric acid ... or Hendrix ON sulphuric acid". You can hear that style most clearly on Old Pervert, a Beefheartian nightmare of fiends and ghouls. Kimberley went on to Katrina and the Waves, for whom he wrote Walking on Sunshine.
Next to Tonight, Queen of Eyes is the prettiest number on the album, two minutes of gorgeous retro pop. It really does sound like the early Byrds, and like Kingdom of Love might have been a hit if not for Robyn describing the object of his affections "with her carapace shell and her black-lace thighs".
And then there's the title track: a psychedelic masterpiece of weirdness about two statues who go out for a night on the town together. Although better heard on the out of print 1976-1981 Ryko compilation (which features a hilarious Hitchcock monologue at its centre), this is the quintessential Soft Boys, the stuff those who've only heard the name, and wondered what they sound like, will be expecting.
Like I said, this is a brilliant album. Buy two.
Despite these issues leading to the instant obscurity of the band, `Underwater Moonlight' is ageing very well and the content is so good it deserves top rating. Basically a pop record, it covers a lot of styles and much trad pop content (as well as some mad surrealist stuff never seen before), including the time-honoured boy-girl theme, which, it has to be said, gets a radical seeing-to: `Insanely Jealous' is by some distance the best-ever song about obsession after being dumped, with murderously manic lead which blows your head off despite the production. `I Wanna Destroy You' hates everyone, but is dressed in seductive harmonies. It's also very funny. `Kingdom of Love' is a standout, a song whose chosen metaphor for sexual obsession is chin-infesting lice with heads that look like that of the object of desire. Yes, that's right. `Old Pervert' is a great track about feeling unattractive, over-sexed, and past it, buying into the neuroses that afflicted intellectual long-maccers at the time (well, me anyway). My personal favourite, though, is `You'll Have To Go Sideways', an instrumental which gets the Soft Boys' intransigent onstage lock-down absolutely right, with the group climbing one of their signature interlocking staircase structures. Insane arpeggios are backed by psychedelic swathes of glare-delay; this is manic psychedelia for mathematicians. Everything else is good-to-great as well.
All in all 'Underwater Moonlight' is a beautiful reminder of the creativity, intelligence and honesty which music briefly went through in the post-punk years, just before everyone went entryist and eighties synth-pop was inflicted upon us. It deserves to be much better known.
Amazingly, that ripple has grown into a wave and influenced a number of other bands (in much the same fashion as the Velvet Underground's first album. Brian Eno's commenta about the VU could also apply to the Underwater Moonlight. It didn't sell a lot but everyone that bought it started a band). Yes, Robyn Hitchcock's offcenter songwriting is the center piece of the album but hardly the only thing that makes this great album notable; Kimberly Rew's sharp and incisive guitar playing creates a distinctive sound that may recall the past ( the Byrds, Beatles, Barrett era Pink Floyd and Captain Beefheart) but clearly echoes that past like a fine work of literature.
This deluxe reissue has the original album plus 2 bonus tracks on the first disc. The second disc consists of rehearsal recordings and outtakes of songs some of which would show up on Hitchcock's solo albums. After the split the band found success and critical acclaim. Hitchcock had a minor hit with Balloon Man that broke him to a much larger audience. Kimberly Rew returned to his first band The Waves (renamed Katrina and the Waves)and began penning a number of pop classics including Walking on Sunshine. Matt Seligman went on to a great career as a studio musician (he was an acclaimed studio pro prior to the band)and continued to back both Hitchcock and others.
They've managed to pull of the best trick of all; the Soft Boys will be touring again. They can finally bask in the acclaim that was so elusive the first time around.
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