1980, Music

Underwater Moonlight (1980) by The Soft Boys

The beginning of the first song got me excited. Then the rest of the album happened…

There was a time when I would have eaten this up, probably. Right around the time I first heard The Dream Syndicate. Well, maybe. Even though I think the albums are kind of similar this one has more of a traditional vibe. (Though it’s also far less indebted to the Velvets, which is a good thing.)

This album was apparently hugely influential on jangle pop in particular, and I can see why. How many new British bands were playing music like this in 1980? Not many, I don’t think. And when I was younger, and more susceptible to the combination of influence plus guitar, I might have just lapped this up.

But, at their mildest, these guys sound really traditional. There are songs that sound like a less folky Byrds and at least one song sounds like some light psychedelic rock from the late ’60s. (And, yes, doing that was weird in 1980 and hugely influential on the neo-psychedelic movement of the ’80s, I’m sure.)

Speaking of influential: “He’s a Reptile” is The Strokes. I mean, not quite, but pretty damn close.

I like whoever is playing lead when he really lets loose. My problem is that he often doesn’t let loose. The thing that’s really appealing about The Dream Syndicate is the bonkers guitar noise. Most of the time these guys are content to forget punk happened. When they decide to play noisy, it only serves to remind you that they’re not doing that most of the time.

Maybe I’m in the wrong mood, because I should like this. I like other records from this era that sound a little like this (though less classicist) and I’m not sure what these guys have done to make me think they’re not up to snuff. I guess it just feels like it’s caught between two impulses, and it’s leaning far more to one side – the safer, more traditional side, which doesn’t work as well (for me) as the rawer side that they occasionally suggest they’re capable of. But I still can’t be sure if it’s the particular week I heard this or it’s them.

Still, if you’ve ever heard any jangle pop in the ’80s it’s clear that this record is a big deal.


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