archiv – soft boys

more oldies….

SOFT BOYS
UNDERWATER MOONLIGHT
(?)
BY MARK BARTON
It was only a matter of time that someone somewhere would have the foresight and imagination to breathe life into this long lost classic and do it the justice it deserves. In a marketing world that revolves in regurgitating re-releases that most of us would prefer as being remained lost and locked tight in the forgotten dusty vaults of the majors, then for once it’s nice that a sense of reason emerges to even the balance.
‘Underwater Moonlight’ is a culmination of a band converging on all axis to produce something of a timeless classic, certainly their finest hour and arguably the reason for the demise of the Soft Boys. It was the album that slipped the net, released at the wrong time, reviewed by the wrong people, it passed silently away from an unsuspecting public. ‘Underwater Moonlight’ was in retrospect, an album out of time and out of line. It was mischievously caught between two stools on its original release in 1980, industrious in melody it ran at odds with punk’s shock treatment ethic. Alternatively, guitar bands were to be considered redundant with the influx of the new romantics, and those who would survive would cite the Velvet Underground and the Doors as opposed to the Beach Boys and Syd Barret Floyd.

Beautifully repackaged as a double CD and a triple vinyl album that includes an additional seven inch reading of ‘Innocent Boy/Zip Zip’ and a live cover of the Floyd’s classic ‘Astronomy Domine’, for fans it is really is the long deserved spoil treatment. All in all a weighty 39 tracks that features the original album cut and supplemented by outtakes and rare alternative versions plus some unreleased goodies. Accompanied by a glossy 8-page booklet with liner notes by David Fricke featuring rare photos and tour/record advertisements from that golden year 1980.

Listening to ‘Underwater Moonlight’ again after all these years it’s easy to see that the esteemed Rolling Stone magazine were spot on when they announced that it was one of the must have albums of the 80’s. The mechanics of the song writing partnership of Hitchcock and Rew can be loosely seen today in the work of the Elephant Six collective. What makes ‘Underwater Moonlight’ all the more worthy is the notion of Hitchcock’s love of the abstract rubbing up against the rest of the bands craving to be the Beatles and the Beach Boys creating an off kilter gloss to the proceedings.

Kicking off with the incendiary ‘I wanna destroy you’, a throbbing psuedo angst ditty that on the surface reflects the atypical nature of punk on one hand and Hitchcocks ability to intelligently wrap his personal wrath within his lyrics. You can’t help having your toes tapping to it, the chorus delay adds to it’s charms, the urge to leap wildly around the room when I hear it is still evident 21 years on such is it’s power. ‘Kingdom of Love’ is very possibly the finest thing here, Hitchcock’s warped lyrics set against Rews provoking tight climbing and falling chord work adds to the tension. Potent with melody, lyrically he would never manifest to this level of darkness until the sub comic-nee horror of ‘My wife and my dead wife’ during his solo work.

‘Old Pervert’ is a close cousin of ‘Big eyed beans from Venus’ from the Beefheart classic ‘Clear Spot’, tense, claustrophobic with a sense of, pardon the pun, pervisity but none the less awash in the classic notion of the blues according to Van Vliet. ‘The Queen of Eyes’ touted by many as classic Soft Boys is a tame affair, bearing a summery melody that would later be adopted by Rew but on a bigger scale with his band Katrina and the Waves.

‘He’s a reptile’ not featured on the original album cut, has a vaguely 50’s edge to it, sounding like it comes from the same evolutionary pool as ‘Do The Mash’. ‘Vegetable Man’ is a reverent cover of the officially unreleased Barret/Floyd classic, if it’s really possible, a trippier version than the original, very twisted. ‘Strange’ perfectly duets with ‘Vegetable Man’ as the albums pyschedelic high points, ‘Strange;’ is ominously oppressive with a deep sense of mystery and darkness. ‘Only the Stones remain’ a poignant tale of pagans reveals Hitchcocks fascination for ancient landmarks before Julian Copes first acid trip.

Disc 2 entitled ‘….And how it got there’ is a round up of selected rehearsal tapes. Of the most interesting of these 17 tracks perhaps a note should be made of ‘Wang Dang Pig’, more Beefheart delta blues tomfoolery, ‘Goodbye Maurice or Steve’ which sounds it belongs more on some Blondie lost recordings set. Add to this the very curious inclusion of a cover of Roxy Musics’ ‘Over You’ which I have to admit is very likeable.

It goes without saying that ‘Under Moonlight’ is an essential purchase to any well ordered record collection, it is one of those rare examples of the past surpassing it’s contemporary future. As relevant now as it should have been then.
MARK BARTON

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