So why do I think The Soft Boys are worthy of being deemed underrated? Certainly at the time of release, 1980, they were roundly derided in the inky music press, and were deemed totally uncool. Maybe it was the hair and Morris Windsor’s moustache. One of The Teardrop Explodes sported a moustace though – so maybe that wasn’t it. Maybe then, Robyn Hitchcock’s playful surreal lyrics, Edward Lear, Hillaire Belloc meets Syd Barrett (an early influence along with Dylan). Nobody ever said rock music had to make sense, Strawberry Fields/I Am The Walrus anyone? I suspect they were just the wrong band in the wrong place at the wrong time. A pity because this is a cracker of an album.
Mixing two distinctly different guitar styles, Robyn Hitchcock’s angular ramblings coupled with Kimberley Rew’s fluid genius, and muscular rhythm section Matthew Seligman on Bass and Windsor on drums , instrumentally they meshed perfectly with an intelligence and power unmatched by any peers other than perhaps the Drums And Wires / Black Sea version of XTC, or even Television.
What then of the songs? A powerful collection, the opener, I Wanna Destroy You all layered harmonies and nihilism, Kingdom of Love a louche musing on the realities of love and sex (You’ve been laying eggs under my skin, now they’re hatching out under my chin) a world in which love comes in the form of tiny insects.
Positive Vibrations is an upbeat optimistic jangler, whilst I Got The Hots explores the darker destructive side of lust through fruit. Side one concludes with the slow burning Insanely Jealous, featuring some fab guitar work from Kimberley Rew as the tune builds to a climax.
SIde two’s opener is the harmony rich Tonight, and the group instrumental You’ll Have To Go Sideways (a reference to crabs, another Hitchcock obsession of the time) leads into the grungy Old Pervert (you will learn to avoid both bridges and fridges after hearing this one). Absolute pop gem, Queen of Eyes is the penultimate track leading into the cheerily ghoulish Underwater Moonlight, a tale of drowned lovers being replaced by animated statues – you know, your everyday song about….etc.
The band produced a small body of work in their actual lifetime, some ep’s and singles (including the impossibly great I Wanna Be An Anglepoise Lamp), two official albums, numerous compilations of outtakes and re-issues released post split, along with a decent reunion album a few years ago, but I still reckon UM is their masterpiece.
Whilst they seemed to do little business in their lifetime they were hugely influential, note Peter Buck of REM’s friendship with Robyn Hitchcock and his own admission that the Soft Boys influenced his own band.
All of the band have gone on to do good stuff in the field, but this is where it really started to work for me.Here’s the little jewel that is Queen of Eyes for you!
Here’s a scan of an early feature on the band taken from issue one of the brilliant Bucketfull of Brains fanzine (which got me through the early eighties – thanks Nigel and the team). If there are Ⓒ issues with this let me know and I’ll take it down.