Graham Reid | | 2 min read
When Robyn Hitchcock sang "I wanna destroy you" on the band's second album -- to a power pop riff that wouldn't have disgraced a Cheap Trick album -- you knew he didn't mean he'd be coming with a gun or a bomb, Hitchcock was out to kill with criticism, wit and satire.
After all here's a man who launched his band with the first track on their first album A Can of Bees (1979) with the song Give It To The Soft Boys, two minutes of faux-blues rock and surreal lyrics ("feel like making love to a photograph, photographs don't smell") and even at the time people referred to Hitchcock as the father of the psychedelic revival.
Not that the Soft Boys were into spiralling 20 minute guitar solos -- quite the opposite, they were purveyors of the short and sharp song, five minutes was a rarity -- but that things were never quite straight ahead in their music.
Aside from Hitchcock's lyrics (if Syd Barrett hadn't slide sideways out of life . . .) they made memorable pop at the time of punk.
"Punk was justifiably negative, because the times were so negative," said Hitchcock later. "But it was a horrible time for rock to be negative. Rock'n'roll didn't need to be destroyed, it needed to be nourished."
So Hitchcock and the Soft Boys dipped into Beatlesque harmonies, power pop, bits of rock'n'roll, novelty songs, offered hints of Captain Beefheart (within a pop context), spacey guitar pop . . .
And songs on A Can of Bees had titles like Leppo and the Jooves, The Rat's Prayer, Do the Chisel, the satirical Sandra's Having Her Brain Out ("you don't really need one if you're a girl, its like tonsils, they're more trouble than they're worth"), Return of the Sacred Crab, School Dinner Blues . . .
They also did a convincing and faithful cover of Lennon's Cold Turkey.
By their second album Underwater Moonlight (1980) they were poking at hippie pop (Positive Vibrations sort of punky Beach Boys with faux-sitar) and the sound was a bit thicker.
At times Hitchcock could sound like Howard Devoto of Magazine (if Devoto had had a bent sense of humour) but they were always destined to be written off by most as a novelty act . . . which didn't take account of how astute Hitchcock was as a songwriter.
But they are always up for a rediscovery (there was a double disc collection 1976-81 through Ryko in '94, there was another reissue about 10 years ago), especially as Hitchcock's solo career has been so interesting in the past decade or so.
So here is a band that sometimes had more in common with Syd Barrett fronting the Monkees or Cheap Trick than anything happening in punk/post-punk. And these are their first two album (no bonus tracks) of oddball punky pop.
The cult starts here. Again.