The Soft Boys


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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.

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