The Soft Boys

Underwater Moonlight (Armageddon '80, Rykodisc '92, Matador '01) Rating: A-
One of those "underground classics" that nobody bought at the time but which can now bask in critical acclaim (if not commercial success), Underwater Moonlight is indeed a neat little album, even if it fails to totally live up to its lofty reputation. Its best songs are sparkling examples of sunny psychedelic pop, as Kimberly Rew's Byrdsy guitar jangle and the band's airy harmonies hark back to bygone days (i.e. the '60s) in spectacular fashion. In particular, "I Wanna Destroy You" surges powerfully along by matching joyously upbeat music with venomous lyrics (and we critics eat up such contradictions), "Positive Vibrations" bounces briskly along on its, well, positive vibrations, and "Queen Of Eyes" and the title track are each melodic marvels of jangle pop perfection. "Tonight" is also awfully good, while "You'll Have To Go Sideways" is a groovy instrumental that's more of a mood piece. Elsewhere, the band is less successful, as their sparse, jittery sound on songs such as "Kingdom Of Love," "I Got The Hots," and "Old Pervert" is far less enjoyable than when they add lush layers and fuller arrangements. Fortunately, they're solid at this Wire-y post-punk style, too (for example, "Insanely Jealous" is tightly wound and tension filled), and band leader Robyn Hitchcock's distinctly British vocals and eccentric, often-surreal and nonsensical-yet-humorous lyrics (example: "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 those tiny insects look like you") tie all of these songs together. The end result is a minor classic that has had some major revisions; Rykodisc added 8 bonus tracks to the '92 reissue, most of which are definitely worthwhile, while Matator added a second cd of rehearsal tapes and several more previously unreleased songs. The Rykodisc reissue should satisfy all but the most rabid of fans, but the main attraction is still the original ten songs. Note: After this album, the band's second (after the supposedly less impressive A Can Of Bees), Hitchcock took ex-Soft Boys Morris Windsor (drums) and Andy Metcalfe (bass; he was replaced by Matthew Seligman for Underwater Moonlight), renamed them the Egyptians, and embarked on a quirky, highly prolific solo career that has won him critical acclaim and a cult following. For his part, Kimberly Rew formed Katrina and the Waves (famous for their smash hit single "Walking On The Sunshine"), who went on to have more (short-lived) success than either Hitchcock or The Soft Boys ever managed. Improbably, The Soft Boys regrouped for a well-received album (Nextdoorland) and tour in 2002.

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