Music

The Soft Boys: A Can of Bees / Underwater Moonlight

In a parallel universe, a late '70s British Invasion might sound like the Beatles totally whacked out of their gourds.


The Soft Boys

A Can of Bees

Label: Yep Roc
US Release Date: 2010-10-19
UK Release Date: 2010-11-01
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes
The Soft Boys

Underwater Moonlight

Label: Yep Roc
US Release Date: 2010-10-19
UK Release Date: 2010-11-01
Amazon
iTunes

First it was Rykodisc. Then Matador. And now indie rock institution Yep Roc gets its chance to bring the Soft Boys into focus for a new generation of music nerds. Robyn Hitchcock's old band made only two "proper" albums (the technicalities get a little confusing), and it is certainly good to have A Can of Bees back on remastered plastic. Underwater Moonlight, however, has been reintroduced to the public at large several times. But none of this matters a lick because good timeless music from 30 years prior remains just that.

Underwater Moonlight is a rare kind of magical little record, and its predecessor A Can of Bees comes very close. These two albums remain seminal; they belong to a period of rock history where influence and popularity couldn't be less aligned. Just like the Velvet Underground, Big Star, and Television, the Soft Boys lacked a neat and tidy marketing classification, but launched a thousand bands in their wake. And just like their American counterpart Television, this Cambridge four-piece took the notion that two-guitar rock bands need to be blues-based and completely messed with it. Robyn Hitchcock and Kimberley Rew brewed up their own two-pronged attack where neither one really played rhythm, but you couldn't correctly call either one the lead neither. To say that their songs were angular is an understatement, and their willingness to revel in their "Englishness" is probably was caused them to go unnoticed for so long.

The 1979 to 1980 period of rock music teaches us that the music didn't always have to be about sex and drugs, and embracing a band like the Soft Boys must have felt liberating. Not to mention cynical. "You don't really need a brain, ducky / If you're a girl / It's like tonsils / They're more trouble than they're worth," goes the strangely catchy "Sandra's Having Her Brain Out". Hitchcock bemoaning the fact that some girls feel the need to act stupid is anathema to the classic rock fantasy of seducing an easy girl, and this is a microcosm of what the Soft Boys paved the way for. How do you wade through a ventilator? Where did that guitar riff for "Leppo and the Jooves" come from? How does a song like "The Pigworker" even get written?

The aforementioned songs make A Can of Bees a treat, but Underwater Moonlight is so much more. This is an album that carries mythical baggage on par with the Velvet Underground's banana album, and it's easy to overhype its quality and importance. But for Barrett's sake, it has survived three decades, numerous reissues, and is still treated like a post-punk pop Dark Side of the Moon. Gazing at Yep Roc's brand new gatefold is like looking at a miniature version of the vinyl, the one that changed R.E.M., Matthew Sweet, the Circle Jerks, and the Flaming Lips for the better, just to name a few. "I Wanna Destroy You" and "The Queen of Eyes" have become something of indie staples for more recent bands, and "You'll Have To Go Sideways", apart from Pink Floyd's "Money", is one of the more memorable guitar riffs written for seven beats to a bar.

What Robyn Hitchcock, Kimberley Rew, Morris Windsor, and Matthew Seligman contributed to modern pop is inestimable. You can't really measure musical influence, not in any concrete way. But if such a unit of measurement existed, I feel secure in saying that the Soft Boys would be up and down the chart. The Soft Boys probably didn't set out to reinvent the wheel, but modern music is definitely different because of them. Yep Roc's reverent remastering of these two wonderful albums help to secure an oddball legacy that deserves to go down uninterrupted. Buy them again.

8

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image