The Soft Boys Play “I Wanna Destroy You”

The Soft Boys Underwater MoonlightListen to this track by neo-psychedelic janglers and left-of-center pop song crafters The Soft Boys. It’s “I Wanna Destroy You” as taken from their 1980 album Underwater Moonlight, their second.

The record would prove to be a slow burn when it came to success in the mainstream. But, in the meantime this song and the rest of the album would be a touchstone to inspire a number of bands coming up behind them in the new decade, including REM, Yo La Tengo, the Replacements, and the Pixies.

The Soft Boys was creatively driven by songwriter, singer and guitarist Robyn Hitchcock, a musician who would distinguish himself as a songwriter of unique lyrical perspectives and in no half-measures during the rest of the 1980s and up until the present as a solo artist.

And like Hitchcock would demonstrate in his solo career, the Soft Boys would pull from some of those same influences that must have seemed out of date at the time this song came out; The Byrds, Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, Revolver-era Beatles, and vintage Bob Dylan. By the end of the 1970s, new wave was the thing, and old wave was out.

But, the retro sound of the record was matched with the hostile sentiments laid down by punk rock, aligning the Soft Boys in both camps, yet in neither, too. Read more

Records I Have Known: Jewels For Sophia by Robyn Hitchcock

Robyn Hitchcock Jewels For SophiaSome records you love because they are immediate and instantly gratifying. They are the prettiest girl at the dance, the one who all of the boys want to dance with. Then, there are the other ones. They have a unique character which stops them from being conventional, yet are appealing just because of their unconventionality. They are the pretty girls at the dance that don’t seem obviously pretty – a crooked tooth here, a set of out-of-date glasses or a drastic haircut there. Yet it is these aspects which make them so attractive, and in many ways so much more interesting. Robyn Hitchcock’s Jewels For Sophia is one of those.

I can’t actually remember how I first discovered Robyn Hitchcock. It could have come through my involvement with a collective of music geekery in Black Cat Bone. There are a few Hitch-heads over there. I had heard a few things here and there. There were a few acclaimed albums which were recommended to me; I Often Dream of Trains being one, and Underwater Moonlight, which is arguably Hitchcock’s best album with The Soft Boys, being another. But, it was Jewels For Sophia that made me a fan. I saw it on sale at a Virgin Megastore (of all places) in Piccadilly Circus, and decided that I’d check it out. What kind of record I was in for, I wasn’t sure. But looking back, I had discovered one of my favourite albums.

It took some time to catch on, but once it did, it completely captured me. The first thing I noticed about it was a total lack of cliché. Hitchcock is known for his absurdist left-of-centre lyrics, of course. But the music itself seemed to stand outside of what was happening at the time too. I heard Bob Dylan in there, particularly on the tracks “You Got A Sweet Mouth On You Baby”, which sounds like a lost cut from Blood on the Tracks, and the sublime “I Feel Beautiful” (with the immortal lines “I water the tomatoes and I think of you/No one’s ever watered me the way you do”). I heard the jangly glory of what Hitchcock had helped to create with the Soft Boys, handed down to bands who admired them like REM and Grant Lee Buffalo, especially on the tracks “Elisabeth Jade” and “Sally Was a Legend”, on which Peter Buck of REM plays. And of course there are the obvious Syd Barrett meets John Lennon comparisons often made to describe Hitchcock in general to be considered. There is a certain validity in this – the melodicism with English eccentricity torch is still burning through out most of Hitchcock’s output, and is particularly strong here.

Robyn HitchcockThere aren’t many songwriters out there writing about cheese, antwomen, Buzz Aldren, and Seatac Airport all on one album. This is a record where rock clichés have no purchase. And Hitchcock’s voice – very English, deep, almost spoken – makes the odd imagery work. It’s like hearing an eccentric-but-cool uncle speaking. With that said, it’s easy to get sidetracked by all of the absurdity and fun, and miss the poignancy underneath. If “NASA Clapping” comes off as a punk-meets-Dylan-meets-the Surrealists barrage, then “I Don’t Remember Guildford” and “Dark Princess” stand as more sombre pieces, tracing the memories of a forgotten chapter in a life, and the idealised vision of love which takes on the characteristics of an act of worship respectively.

There is so much included here; top flight playing, quirkness, grit, beauty, and a seemingly willful approach to songwriting that attempts to cut any connection to rock conventions. It is charming, and a little bit unpredictable too. Because it diverges from the norm, it gives the impression that it could go in any direction. For some, this is off-putting. But in this, Jewels For Sophia does what the best albums in rock/pop music does; it provides the escape route from where songwriting often settles, with a set list of subject matter, language, and sound. With this, and with Hitchcock’s other work, anything goes. Anything can become a song. The pretty girl at the dance can be anyone.

Further listening:

Robyn Hitchcock

Watch an interview with Robyn Hitchcock