THE SOFT BOYS Underwater Moonlight (Yep Roc)

In which a brilliant album gets roundly savaged by Yep Roc’s lousy, slapdash vinyl reissue. Really, it comes to something when the free MP3 download is more satisfying to listen to than the record it’s bundled with, but this “Underwater Moonlight” is sonically atrocious, being shouty, sibilant and dogged with distortion. Aficionados of Robyn Hitchcock’s work have also complained that it’s been narrowed almost to mono, and contains an incorrect, later version of one track (“Old Pervert”), rather clouding the cover sticker’s claim that it’s “Cut from Original Sources”. Its other claim, “First Time in Print in 25 Years!”, appears to discount the existence of Matador’s 2001 expanded triple LP version. The inclusion in that MP3 bundle of 30 extra tracks is scant compensation for anybody, like me, buying into this reissue in the hope of a good-sounding vinyl version of the original album. 

Putting the sound quality as far to one side as possible, the music constrained within is pretty much faultless. The Soft Boys played a mind-meld of new wave, psychedelia and vicious, absurdist humour, a bit like Vivian Stanshall guesting with XTC. The sitar-saturated “Positive Vibrations” pushes the psych into the red, and “Insanely Jealous” is a stalker’s charter, clammy with paranoia (altogether now, “I’m insanely jealous of the hairs upon your bath/And I’m insanely jealous of the spiders in your path”).  “Tonight” is perfect, spooky, damaged pop, neatly subverting what I think I’m correct in saying is the most frequently used UK hit single title with lines like “I’ll be there with a very long nose”. Incorrect though it may be, the version of “Old Pervert” we have here essays a Beefheartian lurch not unlike the kind of music the Captain was describing on his near-contemporaneous “Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller)” album. “The Queen Of Eyes” appears to have been taken as a template for every one of Guided By Voices’ more accessible moments, and the closing title track might stake the best claim yet for the band’s crazed, bug-eyed brilliance.

A great album, then, but don’t buy this version ‘cos it’s rubbish.

Robyn Hitchcock