The Soft Boys

Acts Playing South by Southwest

SXSW Records

The Soft Boys

Underwater Moonlight ...and How It Got There (Matador)

With its Beatles-quality hooks, high level of rock & roll energy, and lyrically wry wit, you have to wonder why the music-buying public has traditionally put up so much resistance to the artistry of Robyn Hitchcock and his first band, the Soft Boys. Then again, Hitchcock has never had any trouble getting new material out to his fan base, nor have said aficionados had much difficulty in recent years catching up on his back catalog. In fact, every time his albums get periodically reissued, more and more bonus tracks are added, up to the point where there's often more new material on an old LP than original material. Now comes a serious revamp of the Soft Boys' 1980 classic Underwater Moonlight, which ties in with the group's triumphant reunion tour. A single disc isn't enough to handle all the bonus material; this time, up from 18 tracks on Rykodisc's 1992 reissue, it takes two packed CDs to contain the 36 tracks that now make up the full Underwater Moonlight …and How It Got There experience. The first disc contains the original album and all its Syd Barrett-inspired madness, plus nine bonus numbers from the appropriate time period, and what fun it is! Hitchcock's music didn't really fit in with the popular anarchy of the punk/New Wave era, what with Byrds-y harmonies and a quirky pop sheen, but the Soft Boys did their best to fit in. While the furious, unrepentant "I Wanna Destroy You" works beautifully on both levels, no self-respecting Sex Pistols fan of the day would have even admitted listening to a song titled "Positive Vibrations," and that's a pity, because the Soft Boys bore all the energy of punk rock, merely focusing it in a more craft-conscious direction. Mind you, the songs on disc two are rehearsal tapes, commonly called "boom box recordings," but the mix is well balanced among the instruments, and you can understand the vocals well, which is about as much as you can ask for, sonically, of such things. Better still, these more or less mono recordings are a treasure trove of "new" Soft Boys material. Raucous rockers like "Goodbye Maurice or Steve" and "Wang Dang Pig," as well as more introspective numbers like "Amputated" and a very early take on Roxy Music's "Over You" (recorded before Avalon was released, it appears) make for another complete, if slightly muffled, Soft Boys album altogether. Which is its due, apparently. Twenty-one years after its initial release, Underwater Moonlight is now two great albums, not just one. (Saturday, March 17, Austin Music Hall, 10pm)

***

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