The Soft Boys were one of the best live post-punk acts I ever saw - heavy, eclectic, playful, with a singer like Rasputin the mad monk who ranted some awesomely perverse and intricate lyrics. However, they never escaped the underground. They had two problems: first, they never translated onto record. This, their best, is a great document, but generally sounds too polite, and has a way too clean, over-trebly production. An all-time Top 100 record in my book, this is the one most needing a decent remaster. Second, their material was quite difficult to get a handle on. Unlike other bands of the time, who attempted complete rejection of existing musical forms, Soft Boys foreshadowed the modern rock-history-as-resource attitude, borrowing harmony vocals, garage-psychedelic stylings and Beefheart skronk to form a kind of complex, psychologically disturbed post-rock which was nothing like the de rigeur dubby, chickenscratch minimalism of a Banshees or PiL. Also, they were much less obviously finger-givers than people like the Gang of Four or The Pop Group, and the anti- attitude tended to be where it was at. All this made it difficult for angry young men of the time to get a handle on the group.
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.