The Soft Boys' fusion of the energy of punk and the baroque textures and melodic twists of psychedelia was ahead of its time, but for the group's leader, Robyn Hitchcock, that had become a problem. Brilliant as their music was, hardly anyone was listening when the Soft Boys released their masterpiece, Underwater Moonlight, in 1980 -- so a year later the band was history and Hitchcock released his first solo album, Black Snake Diamond Role. While the other three members of the Soft Boys appeared on the album (guitarist Kimberley Rew, bassist Matthew Seligman, and drummer Morris Windsor) along with Vince Ely of the Psychedelic Furs, Knox from the Vibrators, and a then-unknown Thomas Dolby, Black Snake Diamond Role represented a subtle but clear shift away from the more aggressive tone of the Soft Boys toward a more pop-oriented sound. "The Man Who Invented Himself" is user-friendly in a way the Soft Boys had never been, and the production, while mostly straightforward, is more polished and professional. Even though the surfaces of this album are more welcoming than the Soft Boys, the surrealism of the lyrics and the trippy undertow of the melodies are in the same league as Hitchcock's earlier work, and while "Acid Bird," "Out of the Picture," and "Brenda's Iron Sledge" are newly catchy and engaging, the guitar work on "I Watch the Cars" shows Hitchcock's vision had changed very little, and the menace of "Do Policemen Sing?" is only slightly undercut by its wit. Black Snake Diamond Role staked out a distinct sonic territory for Hitchcock's solo career that still made room for the abundant talent he'd displayed in his years with the Soft Boys, and remains one of his most enjoyable efforts.
Black Snake Diamond Role Review
by Mark Deming