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Talk about self-conscious ... Soft Boys frontman Robyn Hitchcock has spent his entire career trying very, very hard to fit the role of the English eccentric, to out-weird Syd Barrett.

He doesn't succeed, because it's apparent he's archly pushing the envelope with deliberately oddball metaphors, and imagery that he's carefully chosen for lyrics. Hitchcock's songs are just too well-constructed, and his lyrics make too much clever linear sense, to convey genuinely disjointed madness in the way that the shambles of Syd Barrett's or Roky Erickson's solo albums ´╗┐do.

What Underwater Moonlight reveals is that so-called Nu-Psychedelia, the touchstone of the 'Paisley Underground', isn't particularly psychedelic or druggy at all. Rather, the album is a rip-roaring gem of a punky power/pop album, ragged and jangly in all the right places.

The weirdness comes not so much in the music, which self-consciously touches on 60's hippiedom in only a few places (such as the fake sitars of "Positive Vibrations", that are as annoying as the smarmy title), but in the lyrics, which are positively Freudian and as such no doubt heartfelt, if as humorous and quirky as they are sincere.

Hitchcock suffers from that most common of mental maladies, a mild sexual neurosis ... the key track is "Kingdom of Love", which begins with him smoothly delivering softly sung romantic lyrics appropriate to the title, before the band suddenly and savagely segue into the chorus where he quakes with a fear of pregnancy: You've been laying eggs under my skin. Now they're hatching under my chin ... all those tiny insects look like you!

Elsewhere Hitchcock ponders why people bother to get together when all they're going to do is settle down and breed (it seems he has committment issues). Other songtitles, such as the sarcastic "I'm in the Mood" and the blues parody "I Got the Hots", make it clear that mocking the idea of love and romance is going to be Hitchcock's forte, at least on this album - "Old Pervert", "Insanely Jealous", and "I Wanna Destroy You" make that abundantly clear.

The thing is, Hitchcock offers such fare with a wry / dry humorous touch that leaves the listener grinning, even nodding in agreement to his proposal that romance can seem a silly notion if looked at analytically.

Not that anyone would bother listening if the songs weren't great. "I Wanna Destroy You" opens with a searing scald of high-density power/pop, and "Tonight" - an ode to the pleasures of stalking - is even more anthemically catchy.

"Queen of Eyes" allegedly inspired R.E.M. to imitate The Byrds via secondhand osmosis, as probably did the title track that majestically closes the album with its ultra-memorable chorus hook.

Of the ten tracks on the original LP, only the instrumental "You'll Have to Go Sideways", which is far too repetitive to go anywhere sans vocals, and the flat-out ugly Beefheart blues "Old Pervert" weigh proceedings down.

Underwater Moonlight was the second and final Soft Boys album during their original lifetime (they reformed briefly in the early-00's), as they broke up shortly after this album was released. Guitarist Kimberly Rew formed Katrina & the Waves, who hit the charts with the annoyingly catchy "Walking on Sunshine". And Hitchcock went on to a long and illustrious solo career, though nothing he's released matches this peak of power/poppy punky neo-psychedelia.

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by Reviewer: Creative Noise

Posted: Tuesday 18th Sep 2018 10:02 AM
Recent album review
Predictably enough, the dearth of immediately available and new Nirvana material in the wake of Cobain's suicide led to a proliferation of bootlegs and half-baked archival releases.

Thus it's unsurprising that an official release that compiled a plethora of tracks that were otherwise restricted to obscure bootlegs would largely being regarded as a legitimate entry in Nirvana's severely limited canon, thanks to its lack of overlap with past releases, along with previously impossible-to-find content.

What is surprising however, is that Incesticide was released prior to Cobain's early demise. As opposed to appeasing a fanbase mourning the passing of their rock messiah - an audience coveting even the slightest sound-byte of Nirvana material - this rarities compilation was simply intended to act as a way to keep the band's name in circulation during their year off between Nevermind and In Utero.

So Incesticide had a very modest purpose, and was never envisioned as more than a minor complement to Nirvana's full-fledged albums. And thanks to that, the album was seemingly destined to obscurity, fated to act as bait for completists and hardcore Cobain-worshippers.

In that capacity the album would likely have enjoyed at least a modicum of success, but intervening circumstances elevated it far above such meagre ambitions, as Cobain's suicide transfigured a cheap sales ploy into an immortal historical document. So - rather than irrevocably being reduced to the role of 'fan exploitation' - the CD inherited the title of 'the great lost Nirvana album'.

As might be anticipated of a rarities collection, Incesticide is rather erratic, but it's that very inconsistency that makes the album considerably more interesting than Bleach, a debut that offered little by way of variety, being a monotonous affair that often resembled a parade of interchangeable grunge anthems.

Incesticide in contrast presents the band dabbling in genre exercises in a manner that was never depicted on any of their proper releases, and while that leads to myriad misfires, it ensures that even the weak material is at least moderately interesting, cultivating a level of diversity that's sustains a listener's attention for far longer than a possibly superior one-note outing.

That's not to say that Incesticide is Nirvana's White Album, bursting with creativity and stylistic experimentation. The album is diverse only by Nirvana's limited standards, which is hardly tantamount to the kind of variety offered by more versatile rock outfits. Nevertheless, any measure of diversity is welcome, and that's what makes Incesticide a rather intriguing proposition, as the album includes excursions into pop/rock, Heavy Metal juggernauts, unpredictable covers, and homages to the band's major influences, as well as their signature grunge sensibility.

Such stylistic exhibitions don't always turn out well. For example, Nirvana's emulation of The Pixies on "Hairspray Queen" leaves much to be desired, as Cobain's takes on Black Francis's trademark primal screams invariably turn out as grating headache-inducing dissonance, while the song itself is bereft of the idiosyncratic personality that animates most Pixies fare.

Nonetheless the band should be commended for trying something different, even though Incesticide largely explains why Nirvana never pursued such artistic directions further. The album often feels like a forum for the band to work out their sound, to determine what works for them. As a result, a multitude of tracks feel like abortions - introductions of new ideas that are attempted, then wisely dismissed as failures.

That may sound like a condemnation of the album, and in a way it is, but it's that process that makes Incesticide an interesting listen, as in some ways it's fascinating to witness exactly how Nirvana became the band that produced Bleach and Nevermind.

Unfortunately, the novelty of listening to Nirvana struggling to find themselves inevitably wears off, inspiring one to look to the music for something else to latch onto - perhaps artistic substance rather than listening to a band develop from their embryonic phase. It's here that the listener will doubtlessly be disappointed, as the quality of much of the material is rather suspect.

The album's bookmarked by two strong tracks, the opening rocker "Dive" and the even better grunge anthem "Aneurysm", but much of the content inbetween is decidedly lacking in the hooks department.

Although it's melodically anemic, "Sliver" is at least interesting thanks to it being a slice-of-life tale of a young boy, but tracks like following "Stain" are little more than Nirvana at their most generic, offering the same self-loathing misanthropy and primitive riffage that characterizes the majority of songs penned by Cobain.

And the same could be said for much of the album, for even when Nirvana appear to veer off in new directions they remain fundamentally the same band they'd always been, with Cobain bringing the same emotional baggage into every new venture.

So while variety is the album's greatest asset, it's largely illusory, in that it's just the same band wearing a slightly different mask. Cobain's emotional issues are inseparable from his work, and that's what prevented Nirvana from progressing.

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by Reviewer: Evan Lublinski

Posted: Wednesday 19th Sep 2018 8:18 AM
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