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The Soft Boys | Underwater Moonlight / ...And How It Got There (Matador)
1980, a brave new world had dawned and anything seemed possible. We know from history it all went wrong, New Romantics swept away guitars in a drone of synthesisers and bad funk riffs, but this is how it should have sounded. Reissued 21 years after release and packaged with a bonus disc of rehearsals, allowing you to compare the rough with the smooth and giving an insight to how they honed such a classic, the main event itself IS a masterpiece. The blistering, opening salvo of I Wanna Destroy You, all loud guitars and harmony vocals, swirls into Kingdom Of Love, the re-mastering shining up the instruments, unlike the sleazy I Got The Hots, which was meant to sound grubby. With such a record how could the eighties have gone so wrong? Matthew Seligman's throbbing bass trundles Insanely Jealous along while Robyn Hitchcock's, menacing vocals stalk you, inflamed by crazed axes that subside as quickly as they arrived. The rehearsal version lacks some evil, despite Hitchcock's screams of "jealousy got a hold of me," but it's still an uncomfortable listen, having the same claustrophobic euphony. Tonight has a chill about it, as if something lurks around the corner and listen closely to You'll Have To Go Sideways and you'll hear an embryonic Yo La Tengo making notes. With the original, vinyl, Old Pervert long lost from the archives, this version still sounds like it's wearing a dirty mac, just with underwear beneath, despite the guitars, a blazing duel between Robyn and Kimberley Rew, two of the greatest players locked in a battle for the last chord, fuelled by Morris Windsor's franticly controlled drumming. Four tantalizing fragments of this are on disc 2, each showing, no matter how it's recorded, it's brutal, the pieces scattered throughout, as if by putting them together a terrible power would be unleashed. Then there's the perfect pop shining of Queen Of Eyes, sub-two minutes of bliss that has never been bettered in guitar based jangliness. The liquid burble of the title track has a hard act to follow, but pulls it off, signing out with a wave of guitars and vocals again. The rehearsal version is rough, but more than ready, almost eclipsing the legendary Two Halves version, meandering off and nearly collapsing before pulling itself together for the finale. The bonus tracks are the same as the Ryko reissue a few years ago, adding He's A Reptile for good measure. Some from the Two Halves For The Price Of One album, like the rattling There's Nobody Like You and the great seafood ode, Where Are The Prawns?, others singles and B-sides, but all are of a high enough quality not to sound too overshadowed by the album itself. The other rough tracks turn up some diamonds, noticeably the velvety pop of Like A Real Smoothie and the bouncingly joyous Goodbye Maurice Or Steve, an absolute gem which wouldn't have been out of place on the finished album, it's worth the money alone. Elsewhere there's a Dylanesque She Wears My Hair, the dark blues of Wang Dang Pig, the pulsating Leave Me Alone and Alien, a loping Cherries and the creepy Amputated, leading to a rampage through Roxy's Over You. A couple of extracts only serve to annoy though, leaving you wanting the whole song and overall, the extra disc doesn't add anything, but it'd be hard to. It does give a sense of where the band came from, harking back to the Can Of Bees days and its raw, melodic, new wave feel. The fans will love it, the rest will be baffled, but the Soft Boys were all about that. Listening now it's easy to see the influence the album had, keeping the guitar sound ringing until the American invasion in the mid 80's. Has it stood the test of time? Yes, absolutely. Will we see its like again? As Robyn says at the end of disc 2 "No, probably not."

Laurence Arnold
CWAS #7 - Spring 2001