Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Soft Boys • A Can of Bees

1-2 "great to be here," "sure is" 3-4...

YepRoc's new reissues of two great Soft Boys albums starts off with this intro to "Give It to the Soft Boys" on A Can of Bees (and continues with the Underwater Moonlight LP). Robyn Hitchcock's late '70s anglo rock band, hailed as being both punk and psych (a near collision of rock critic clich├ęs), were a much overlooked group, only receiving their due when Robyn's solo career took off in the mid '80s with his brilliant I Often Dream of Trains and Fegmania! releases. Sure, some real enthusiastic power pop trainspotters were aware of "I Wanna Be an Anglepoise Lamp," the Soft Boys' single release on Radar UK, but for the most part, by then the band were not just cold but buried. Through some early reissues on smaller labels and then bigger ones like Rykodisc, the band's three albums (there was also the compilation Invisible Hits) gained acclaim as angular rock that wasn't punk, wasn't neo-psychedelic, wasn't power pop, but lodged somewhere in the overlap like a bed bug in a worn out sheet.

This time YepRoc has issued vinyl and CD versions of Bees and Moonlight that are faithful to the originals (barring the bonus tracks on the CDs, which are available as downloads for the vinyl buyer), but not wholly necessary unless you want the vinyl. A Can of Bees, the Soft Boys' first LP, is a punchy, locomotive of a rock elpee, chugging along with finely oddball tunes like "Leppo and the Jooves," about a band that jumps on anything that moves, including "taxis, coffin lids, Americans, pianos, heads and rooves," the elegaic "Human Music," which is a tune that reveals Hitchcock's more reserved side, and a live version of John Lennon's "Cold Turkey." You don't actually get "Anglepoise Lamp" on the LP, which is a shame, but then it wasn't on the LP in the first place. (It can be had on a few different compilations, including Rykodisc's 2CD 1976-1981 compilation.) As I said, vinyl addicts may want to pick these up if they're lacking wax for their Soft Boys tracks, especially Bees, which hasn't been out on vinyl since the early '90s. And Underwater Moonlight, the 5/5 classic that it is, is also a great buy if you don't have the early 2000s Matador release, which was 3 LPs + a 7" in the best packaging ever of a Robyn release. Both albums are must-haves in at least one configuration (your choice), so make sure you have 'em. And by the way, YepRoc recently announced the upcoming reissue of Nick Lowe's Labour of Lust, which ought to be a real corker considering it hasn't been reissued since it came out in '79!
4/5 (YepRoc)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Pretenders • Pretenders II

The holidays and a little bit of travel kept me busy for the last month, and though there are some new releases I'd like to get to, I listened to this gem on the plane and I can't help but want to give Pretenders II it's due.

Now I know most of you, if you're a Pretenders fan, like the first album better. And what's not to like about that album? Every song's a winner; it's hard to beat "Mystery Achievement," "The Wait" or their cover of "Stop Your Sobbing," let alone the truly sublime "Brass In Pocket." But Pretenders II is just as brilliant, just as rockin', and in my book, a better collection of songs. From the opening beats of "The Adultress," all the way through "Louie Louie" (not the Kingsmen's hit), II is a rock 'n' roll coup.

Can you beat "Message of Love" for a song that is so sensually poetic, and yet still kicks you in the nuts? Chrissie Hynde's lyrics are so good, even when she lifts others' lines like "Now look at the people, in the streets, in the bars / We are all of us in the gutter, (but) some of us are looking at the stars," she's an original. "Talk of the Town"? Brill. "I Go to Sleep?" Hynde & Co. pick another sleeper of a Ray Davies tune and make it their own. "Bad Boys Get Spanked?" Oh my, how I wished I was getting a spankin' from Chrissie back then. Yes ma'm, no ma'm... whatever you say Ms. Hynde!

And what about "Birds of Paradise": "I wrote a letter to you my friend, so many letters that I never send / I think about you at day's end, the time that we had / I laughed in my bed, the stupid things you said / We were two birds of paradise." What a gorgeous song. The band at that time, Chrissie, James Honeyman Scott, Pete Farndon and Martin Chambers, were probably the best unit going at the time. Their intertwining guitar and bass lines on this song, with Chambers' tasteful percussion, are a showcase for how they could tone it down and still pack a whallop. So, with II, we now had a pair of absolutely stunning albums and then, boom, two of the four are gone. It's sad to say that Pretenders II was the last page in that unmatched opening chapter, but it was, it is, and life goes on.

Chrissie, of course, continued on with Learning to Crawl, also a nice piece of work, but the band from that point on became a bit of a revolving door with its members. Whatever... She still does great work. But if you haven't given II a spin in awhile, please do. It really is amazing.
5/5 (Sire/Real)