Soft Boys


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A Can Of Bees , 6/10
Invisible Hits , 6/10
Underwater Moonlight , 8.5/10
Nextdoorland , 5/10
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Summary:
The Soft Boys went beyong mere recreation of a past era: they created a new era of their own. When the talents of visionary vocalist Robyn Hitchcock and of down-to-earth guitarist Kimberley Rew met, the unique psychedelic sound of Underwater Moonlight (1980) was born. The lullabies smelled of Syd Barrett and of early Pink Floyd, and the rave-ups smelled of the Kinks and of the Who, but the combination of anthemic rock'n'roll and acid atmospheres was largely new. The Soft Boys laid the foundations for the psychedelic revival of the 1980s.
(Translated from my original Italian text by DommeDamian)

In the 1980s the Soft Boys created a magical fusion of Pink Floyd's first psychedelia-period, vocal harmonies of the Beach Boys, cartoonish melodies of the Kinks, and strange folk of Syd Barrett's solo records. The result was one of the most exciting sounds of the era, related only sideways to the psychedelic revival that was in vogue. Their discography is however so fragmentary and partial that anthologies, unpublished and reissues will continue to be released for twenty years.

The band formed in 1976 in the university town of Cambridge, where singer and guitarist Robyn Hitchcock met bassist Andy Metcalfe and drummer Morris Windsor. Their first document was (in October of the following year) the EP Give It To The Soft Boys , later collected in Wading Through A Ventilator (1984), from the title of the guide track. From the dissolution of another band in the area, the Waves, the Soft Boys gained second guitarist Kimberley Rew.

The new line-up began with the single Anglepoise Lamp (Radar), followed by the self-produced album A Can Of Bees (1979). Hitchcock's voice blatantly echoes Barrett and the instrumental background is full of "acid" numbers. But it is above all the bizarre melodic and harmonic ideas of the leader (The Pig Worker) that tamper with a sound that is only revivalistic in itself.

Also in 1979 the Soft Boys recorded the pieces that would form Invisible Hits (released only in 1983), an album full of grotesque humor (Rock And Roll Toilet) and melodrama (Empty Girl), eros (Let Me Put It Next To You) and pathos (Blues In The Dark). The eccentricity and the immaturity of the leader hinder the band, however, relegating it to the bizarre phenomena on the sidelines of punk.

The group however (replaced Metcalfe with Matthew Seligman) was ripe for a masterpiece, and the next album is in fact the masterpiece of the entire psychedelic revival: Underwater Moonlight (Armageddon, 1980 - Rykodisc, 1992 - Matador, 2001). From the lysergic fusion of Pink Floyd and Velvet Underground, memorable deviant ideas arise such as I Got The Hots , a "Barrettian" ballad with a typical "spatial" melodic progression; Old Pervert , "Hendrixian" blues torn by a demonic tribalism; and Positive Vibrations , raga-beat with Hollies-esque vaudeville rhyme and Stones-style charge step. Simpler, but equally enthralling, Insanely Jelous's music-hall sketch (a delirium spoken in a pulsating crescendo), the galactic instrumental You'll Have To Go Sideways , the melodic jingle-jangle Queen of Eyes , the "reedian" ballad Tonite . But above all the Soft Boys chisel I Wanna Destroy You , a distorted and pounding choral anthem of which blends Byrds vocals and Stooges guitars; Kingdom of Love (with its Astronomy Domine-esque boogie with ringing folk-rock riffs); and the grand finale of Underwater Moonlight, pressing breathtaking ska-gypsy-raga dance. Rew's guitar is the grandiose protagonist; insightful, rough, penetrating, schizoid: a Keith Richard contaminated by McGuinn and Hendrix. It is thanks to his modest virtuosity that Underwater Moonlight never resorts to electronic experimentation, to sound abstractions, but is based solely on the solid traditions of rock and roll. The register of Hitchcock's singing, close to Syd Barrett's, completes the suggestion of the sound. vintage, re-proposed exactly as then, as if time had stopped.

In 1981 the group broke up in general indifference. The single He's A Reptile (1983) was released again. They were rediscovered only three years after the release of what was then believed to be their first album, actually the only one to have been released. It was then that the archaeological finds of their history began to come to light.

Robyn Hitchcock will start a prolific solo career, while Kimberly Rew will join  Katrina And The Waves.

Negli anni '80 i Soft Boys realizzarono una fusione magica di prima psichedelia dei Pink Floyd, armonie vocali dei Beach Boys, vignettismo melodico dei Kinks, folk bislacco dei dischi solisti di Syd Barrett. Il risultato fu uno dei sound piu` eccitanti dell'epoca, imparentato soltanto di traverso con il revival psichedelico che era in voga. La loro discografia e` pero` talmente frammentaria e parziale che per vent'anni continueranno a uscire antologie, inediti e ristampe.

Il gruppo si formo` nel 1976 nella cittadina universitaria di Cambridge, dove il cantante e chitarrista Robyn Hitchcock incontro` il bassista Andy Metcalfe e il batterista Morris Windsor. Il loro primo documento fu (nell'ottobre dell'anno dopo) l'EP Give It To The Soft Boys, in seguito raccolto in Wading Through A Ventilator (1984), dal titolo del brano guida. Dallo scioglimento di un altro gruppo della zona, i Waves, i Soft Boys guadagnarono il secondo chitarrista Kimberley Rew.

La nuova formazione esordi` con il singolo Anglepoise Lamp (Radar), seguito dall'album auto-prodotto A Can Of Bees (1979). La voce di Hitchcock rifa` palesemente il verso a Barrett e il sottofondo strumentale e` ricco di numeri "acidi". Ma sono soprattutto le bizzarre idee melodiche e armoniche del leader (The Pig Worker) a manomettere un sound di per se` soltanto revivalistico.

Sempre nel 1979 i Soft Boys registrarono i pezzi che avrebbero formato Invisible Hits (pubblicato solo nel 1983), album ricco di humour grottesco (Rock And Roll Toilet) e di melodramma (Empty Girl), di eros (Let Me Put It Next To You) e di pathos (Blues In The Dark). L'eccentricita` e l'immaturita` del leader ostacolano pero` la band, relegandola fra i fenomeni bizzarri a latere del punk.

Il gruppo (sostituito Metcalfe con Matthew Seligman) era maturo per un capolavoro, e il disco successivo e` infatti il capolavoro dell'intero revival psichedelico: Underwater Moonlight (Armageddon, 1980 - Rykodisc, 1992 - Matador, 2001). Dalla fusione lisergica di Pink Floyd e Velvet Underground scaturiscono memorabili spunti devianti come I Got The Hots, ballata "barrettiana" con una tipica progressione melodica di fattura "spaziale"; Old Pervert, blues "hendrixiano" dilaniato da un tribalismo demoniaco; e Positive Vibrations, raga-beat con filastrocca vaudeville alla Hollies e passo di carica alla Stones. Piu` semplici, ma altrettanto trascinanti, lo sketch da music-hall di Insanely Jelous (un delirio parlato in un crescendo pulsante), lo strumentale galattico You'll Have To Go Sideways, il jingle-jangle melodico Queen Of Eyes, la ballata "reediana" Tonite. Ma soprattutto i Soft Boys cesellano I Wanna Destroy You, anthem corale distorto e martellante di in cui fonde vocalizzi Byrds e chitarrismi Stooges; Kingdom Of Love, boogie alla Astronomy Domine con riff scampanellanti di folk-rock; e il gran finale di Underwater Moonlight, incalzante danza mozzafiato ska-tzigano-raga. La chitarra di Rew e` protagonista assoluta, ficcante, ruvida, penetrante, schizoide: un Keith Richard contaminato da McGuinn e da Hendrix. E` grazie al suo modesto virtuosismo che Underwater Moonlight non ricorre mai alla sperimentazione elettronica, alle astrazioni sonore, ma si basa unicamente sulle solide tradizioni del rock and roll. Il registro del canto di Hitchcock, vicino a quello di Barrett, completa la suggestione del sound. d'epoca, riproposti esattamente come allora, come se il tempo si fosse fermato.

Nel 1981 il gruppo si sciolse nell'indifferenza generale. Usci` ancora il singolo He's A Reptile (1983), Vennero riscoperti soltanto tre anni dopo la pubblicazione di quello che allora si credette il loro primo album, in realta` l'unico ad essere stato pubblicato. Fu allora che cominciarono a venire alla luce i reperti archeologici della loro storia.

Robyn Hitchcock dara` vita a una prolifica carriera solista, mentre Kimberly Rew si unira` ai Katrina And The Waves.

Robyn Hitchcock and Kimberly Rew reformed the Soft Boys to release Nextdoorland (Matador, 2002). Unfortunately, the material is mostly in line with Hitchcock's latter-day albums (i.e., weak). The highlight is a bizarre surf instrumental I Love Lucy, which would be an incidental track on Underwater Moonlight. Rew salvages a few of Hitchcock's ditties (Mr Kennedy, Unprotected Love, Japanese Captain), but overall this is yet another unfortunate reunion.

Matthew Seligman of the Soft Boys died in 2020 during the covid-19 epidemic.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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