August 10, 1993

Album Review

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 catalog -- 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. 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. And, at that, it succeeds beyond all reasonable doubt.
Dave Thompson, Rovi

Track Listing

  1. Wey Wey Hep Uh Hole
  2. It's Not Just the Size of a Walnut
  3. Ugly Nora
  4. The Yodelling Hoover
  5. Hear My Brane
  6. The Face of Death
  7. Wading Through a Ventilator
  8. Give It to the Soft Boys
  9. (I Want to Be An) Anglepoise Lamp
  10. Fatman's Son
  11. Where Are the Prawns?
  12. Salamander
  13. Heartbreak Hotel
  14. Caroline Says
  15. We Like Bananas
  16. The Pigworker
  17. Do the Chisel
  18. Return of the Sacred Crab
  19. That's When Your Heartaches Begin
  20. The Book of Love
  21. Sandra's Having Her Brain Out
  22. Leppo and the Jooves
  23. The Rat's Prayer
  24. Have a Heart, Betty (I'm Not Fireproof) [No. 1]
  25. Mystery Train
  26. He's a Reptile
  27. Rock & Roll Toilet
  28. Have a Heart, Betty (I'm Not Fireproof) [No. 2]
  29. Insanely Jealous
  30. Underwater Moonlight
  31. I Wanna Destroy You
  32. Queen of Eyes
  33. Kingdom of Love
  34. Positive Vibrations [Live]
  35. Gigolo Aunt [Live]
  36. Train Round the Bend [Live]
  37. Kingdom of Love [Live]
  38. Only the Stones Remain