The SOFT BOYS – ” The Albums “

Posted: February 5, 2023 in CLASSIC ALBUMS, MUSIC

The Soft Boys were an indie rock band primarly led by Robyn Hitchcock primarily during the 1970s, whose initially old-fashioned music style of psychedelic/folk-rock became part of the neo-psychedelia scene with the release of “Underwater Moonlight”. The Soft Boys have turned out to be one of the most influential bands in shaping contemporary alternative music, though few are completely familiar with the quirky group’s legacy. Formed in Cambridge, England in 1976 on the heels of the punk revolution, the Soft Boys eschewed the three-chord nihilism of punk and opted for a crude version of psychedelic/folk-rock that was well on its way out of fashion, but oddly, just on the cusp of a resurgence.

The band began life in 1976 as Dennis and the Experts comprising Robyn Hitchcock (guitar), Rob Lamb (guitar), Andy Metcalfe (bass), and Morris Windsor (drums). Alan Davies replaced Lamb after only four gigs late in 1976, and Kimberley Rew eventually replaced Davies. Matthew Seligman replaced Metcalfe in 1979.

On this day (May 26th 1978): neo-psych rockers The Soft Boys released their second single “(I Want to Be An) Anglepoise Lamp” on Radar Records (backed with “Fat Man’s Son”), both songs written by lead vocalist Robyn Hitchcock;  followed by the “Can of Bees” album in 1979.

A Can of Bees

The Soft Boys, like so many other underground miscreants in the ’70s, spent their formative years generating enough critical capital to earn much sought-after adjectives like “influential” and “underrated.” The Robyn Hitchcock-led band pseudo-psych rock outfit’s shared love for all things Byrds, Beatles, Dylan, and Syd Barrett was both venerated and blown to smithereens on their 1979 debut long-player, “A Can of Bees”.

More angular and jarring Hitchcock, Kimberly Rew, Morris Windsor, and Andy Metcalfe sounded positively possessed, channeling both ’60s progressive rock and late-’70s punk into an unholy guitar-driven onslaught fueled by Hitchcock’s surreal lyrics: opening a record with a line like “feel like asking a tree for an autograph” is one thing, but backing up those words with an atonal, apocalyptic blues riff is another. It’s an often brutish affair that works more often than it should, with highlights arriving by way of the pounding and addictive “Leppo and the Jooves,” the incendiary “Do the Chisel,” and the impossibly dumb but nearly perfect pop gem “Sandra’s Having Her Brain Out.”

“A Can of Bees” has seen its fair share of iterations over the years, often boasting multiple bonus cuts and conflicting track listings (the impossibly prolific Hitchcock would eventually become notorious for this with his solo releases), but they’re all more or less complete, and the material continues to inspire, even if it’s only a handful of ears at a time.

Underwater Moonlight

After recording the material that would later comprise the bulk of “Invisible Hits”, the Soft Boys recorded their masterpiece, the shimmering neo-psychedelic, one of alternative rock’s greatest albums with their 1980 ‘Underwater Moonlight’…The new line-up started fresh and recorded the album that found them trading psychedelic jams for a more straight-ahead jangle pop-guitar rock sound. The LP has become extremely influential in the guitar rock canon; bands like the Replacements, R.E.M., and the L.A. Paisley Underground scene all claimed it as a prime influence. The album launched a thousand bands, but it turned out to be the Soft Boys’ swan song. Essentially, the band didn’t change their style for the record — they merely perfected it. The Soft Boys don’t hide their influences — whether its the ringing guitars of the Beatles and Byrds or the surreal humour of John Lennon and Syd Barrett  in their lyrics– but they assimilate them, resulting in a fresh, edgy take on ’60s guitar pop. 

Armageddon released “Underwater Moonlight” in June 1980, and it has been released many times since. It was “A Can of Bees”‘ attractive younger sister; the dissatisfaction that many felt with our first album was melted away by the new arrival. 

Robyn Hitchcock’s subject matter tends to be more explicitly weird and absurdist than his influences, as titles like “I Wanna Destroy You,” “Old Pervert,” and “Queen of Eyes” indicate — even “Kingdom of Love” equates romance to bugs crawling under your skin. But the lyrics aren’t the only thing that are edgy — the music is too. The Soft Boys play pop hooks as if they were punk rock. “I Wanna Destroy You” isn’t overtly threatening like their post-punk contemporaries, but with its layered guitar hooks and dissonant harmonies, it is equally menacing.

John Peel hadn’t previously been a fan but he played a lot off “Underwater Moonlight”

Furthermore, the group can twist its songs inside out and then revert them to their original form, as evidenced by “Insanely Jealous.” Although the neo-psychedelic flourishes are fascinating, the key to record’s success is how each song is constructed around rock-solid hooks and melodies that instantly work their way into the subconscious. In fact, that’s the most notable thing about “Underwater Moonlight” — it updates jangling, melodic guitar pop for the post-punk world, which made it a touchstone for much of the underground pop of the mid-’80s, particularly R.E.M.

The band broke up in 1981 after “Underwater Moonlight”. Rew formed the more mainstream pop group Katrina and the Waves, so many things were calling ‘time’ on the Soft Boys. For one, Kimberley had been amassing songs since his old band, the Waves, floundered in late 1977: he had joined the Soft Boys on the understanding that Hitchcock was the singer-songwriter, but his frustration was palpable, nonetheless, at having no outlet for them. while Hitchcock went on to a prolific career with a similar whimsical, surrealistic style, forming Robyn Hitchcock and the Egyptians in 1984 with fellow Soft Boys Morris Windsor and Andy Metcalfe, who went on to tour and record for ten years.

Kimberley rejoined the Waves, added Katrina, and scored an eternal number one with ‘Walking On Sunshine’. He has also done very well with songs supplied to The Bangles. Matthew joined the Thompson Twins and then Thomas Dolby, whom he had long championed, for Thomas’s pop era. He has also played sessions for many from Donovan to Morrissey. 

They were briefly joined by Rew and Seligman in a re-formed Soft Boys for a UK tour in 1994 to mark the release of a box set of their work, and then reformed again in 2001 without Metcalfe for the 20th anniversary of “Underwater Moonlight” and the release of a new album, “Nextdoorland”, in 2002. They disbanded once again in 2003.


If pop music history teaches us anything, it’s that reunions of once-great bands are a dicey prospect at best, and for every act like The Buzzcocks who were able to come back at full strength, there are two or three that never should have bothered,

In 2001, The Soft Boys’ reunion tour (prompted by the augmented re-release of their classic “Underwater Moonlight”) proved to be one of the most pleasant surprises of the year, as Robyn Hitchcock, Kimberley Rew, Morris Windsor, and Matthew Seligman let loose a crackling display of sonic energy and revisited their older material with the enthusiasm of four newcomers tearing into their set for the first time.

All in all, the band performed an exemplary live show, but when The Soft Boys announced they were going into the studio to cut a new album, it was hard not to wonder, “OK, they can still do it onstage, but will it work again on tape?” Judged against The Soft Boys’ small but estimable back catalogue,

Their first album in 22 years, “Nextdoorland“, seems just the slightest bit disappointing — while the songs are fine, there are no immediate masterpieces and the production (by Pat Collier) seems a bit too spare and efficient, not always giving the performances the body and heft they need. But give “Nextdoorland” a few listens, let it sink in, and one reaches the inevitable conclusion this is still a great band, capable of making superb music.

As a guitarist, Robyn Hitchcock has never had a better foil than Kimberley Rew, and their interplay on these songs is simply superb; after several acoustic-based albums, it’s a pleasure to hear Hitchcock play electric guitar again, and his best moments with Rew recall the otherworldly six-string symbiosis of Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd. And if Windsor and Seligman rarely call attention to themselves as a rhythm section, that’s one of their greatest virtues; with subtle precision, they support these performances brilliantly, and these four players are a band in the truest and best sense of the word, working fluidly as a unit rather than as four individuals.

Is “Nextdoorland” an instant classic like “Underwater Moonlight” No. The Soft Boys are still a strong and viable band “Nextdoorland” is a more than worthy addition to their catalogue, and proves that two decades apart has not diluted their remarkable chemistry.

1976-1981 (Cd Only)

Although their five-year career reaped little in terms of commercial reward, the Soft Boys ultimately emerged among the most influential and best-loved of all the early “alternative” acts, as that genre thrust its way out of the twin wombs of punk and new wave. A convoluted back catalogue — as tricky and twisted in its own way as the very best of the band’s songs — has long been one of the Soft Boys‘ attractions for collectors, and “1976-1981″ must first be lauded for so effortlessly making sense of its labyrinthine convolutions.

The Two CDs, arranged in strict chronological order, not only resurrect a pair of early singles that defy the most energetic collector searches (1977’s “Give It to the Soft Boys” EP debut and the following year’s “[I Want to Be An] Anglepoise Lamp 45”), but also haul out a wealth of previously unreleased live and studio cuts, contextual buffers around the often vast steps the band was taking in between its regular releases.

Thus, three demos recorded in Robyn Hitchcock’s living room in early 1977 pave the way not only for the EP, but also for two further songs from the same session; both sides of the “Anglepoise Lamp” single are accompanied by two further songs intended for an accompanying, but ultimately abandoned, album; and a clutch of eight live tracks, also from 1978, depict the band marching through both its own idiosyncratic compositions (“We Like Bananas,” “Return of the Sacred Crab”) and some positively iconic covers — Lou Reed’s “Caroline Says” and the Monotones’ “Book of Love” among them. And that’s just the first disc — move on, and the “Can of Bees” and “Underwater Moonlight” albums, the discs for which the Soft Boys are today most widely acclaimed, are explored in lavish detail, again with material drawn from both sides of the cutting room floor.

There is, of course, considerable duplication between this and the sundry other Soft Boys archive projects out there “Invisible Hits” is especially well represented, but the anthology’s role is not to replace, but to highlight the absolute wealth of genius contained within those five years of striving.

Two more recordings were released posthumously: the “2 Halfs for the Price of One” EP in 1981, and some early sessions compiled on “Invisible Hits” in 1983. Their first EP was re-released in 1984 as “Wading Through a Ventilator”.


  • A Can of Bees (1979)
  • Underwater Moonlight (1980)
  • Nextdoorland (2002)

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