Saturday, January 28, 2012

Underwater Moonlight (1980)

The second album by the Soft Boys was pure revelation when I finally caught up with it, a few years after Robyn Hitchcock was fully embarked on his solo career, with and without the Egyptians. Already Hitchcock's trademark wry European surrealism cross-pollinated with New Wave sonics is fully on display: "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," he casually tosses off on "Kingdom of Love." The album opener, "I Wanna Destroy You" is an ostensible anti-war sentiment that sets out to flatten you with all its might. The expressions of love, as on "I Got the Hots" or "Insanely Jealous" (which reports jealousy of, among other things, the people that you see, the people that aren't me, the places that you go, the people that you know, the hairs upon your back, the spiders in your path) are just barely this side of unhinged. The context, the primary feature, and the raison d'etre all through is crunchy, pile-driving, Brit-derived rock 'n' roll at full propulsion, the sound of guitar strings snapping on open chords played hard, with Hitchcock's adenoidal boarding-school twit vocals riding the top with variously sweet melodies. The original vinyl LP was nearly perfect, one to flip over and over and over. Some 20 years later came a reissue with seven or eight extras (one, a cover of Syd Barrett's "Vegetable Man," had previously appeared on some of the LP editions) and a whole second disc of live performance/rehearsals from the time, known as ...And How it Got There. I'm rarely one to complain about excesses of the things I like, but the reissue has never hit me with the same force as the original, which just means, I suppose, that I need to learn how to apportion my things more carefully. Because actually, taken on a case by case basis, a number of the added tracks are among those I enjoyed most in revisiting the album recently: "Strange," with its eerie and beautiful harmonies and spare arrangement, "Where Are the Prawns?," which rocks a good deal, and "Black Snake Diamond Rock," which also rocks a good deal (and is not to be confused with an early solo album, Black Snake Diamond Röle). This is good stuff, bringing interesting variety to an already impressive set. But the original 10 remain as fresh and weird and potent as the day I first heard them, raving up at will and putting themselves across effortlessly.

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