The Soft Boys – Underwater Moonlight (1980): Review

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Produced by Pat Collier, Mike Kemp and Spaceward
Label – Armageddon

The Soft Boys were a band that were a product of the time, and yet their music sounded completely out of time. The Cambridge four piece existed in a musical world where a new band’s reference to music from the likes of The Beatles, The Beach Boys and The Byrds was largely ridiculed and mainly shunned. The subtle difference that spiced up Robyn Hitchcock’s compositions was an updated version of 60s garage pop with a hint of Syd Barrett styled psychedelic whimsy, and Captain Beefheart goonish oddity. Hitchcock paints lyrical pictures of rage fueled adolescence, hormone filled infatuation, jealousy, and smutty humour. According to legend, the limited budget (the record cost just £600 to produce) and the stress of recording at a fast pace, hardly affects what is a surprisingly multi layered and polished vocal and instrumental collection.

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Opener “I Wanna Destroy You” captures all the anger of punk at breakneck pace and distills it into a tight multi harmonized rocker. “Kingdom Of Love” is an irresistibly strident pop song, and “Positive Vibrations” introduces the long lost sitar for accompaniment to the adrenalized surf pop. The endearing “Queen Of Eyes” sounds like the love child of early Pink Floyd and Big Star. The title track just affirms the band’s melodic capabilities with a superbly catchy chorus and some clever guitar interplay from Kimberly Rew and Hitchcock. When many post punk and new wave music from this era sounds horribly dated, “Underwater Moonlight” is completely timeless, and that’s because the band never adhered to trends when they recorded the collection. The album has been regularly cited as an influence to the likes of R.E.M., The Replacements and Yo La Tengo. Although ignored at the time, it is now regarded as a minor classic and has sold larger numbers as a re-issue.

“Underwater Moonlight” is undoubtedly fueled by a loving obsession with dusty, monophonic beat music, but be absolutely sure that it isn’t a slice of misplaced nostalgia. It’s timeless nature is its greatest asset, and its re-evaluation as a vital pop album is completely understandable.

8/10

Track Rating
1 – I Wanna Destroy You (9)
2 – Kingdom Of Love (8)
3 – Positive Vibrations (8)
4 – I Got The Hots (7)
5 – Insanely Jealous Of You (7)
6 – Tonight (8)
7 – You’ll Have To Go Sideways (7)
8 – Old Pervert (5)
9 – Queen Of Eyes (8)
10 – Underwater Moonlight (9)

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8 responses to “The Soft Boys – Underwater Moonlight (1980): Review

    • I haven’t really investigated his solo work other than the Egyptians stuff in the 80s which I liked a lot. Are his other solo works good too?

      • I have and you’re right. I wondered if his stuff after the Egyptians was any good? I didn’t listen to anything after “Queen Elvis”

      • I have a bit of his 1990’s stuff, and The Soft Boys reunion, and I’ve never been a huge fan of any of it. I might not have the right albums though. I loved his cover of The Psychedelic Furs ‘Ghost In You’ a few years back.

  1. I tried with these guys about a decade ago because I loved Hitchcock’s work with the Egyptians and his solo stuff but it didn’t make an impression on me. Maybe it’s time for another spin.

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