Flashback: Underwater Moonlight

Debuting back in 1980 when R.E.M. and U2 were just starting to make waves, the Soft Boys' Underwater Moonlight unfortunately didn't make much of a ripple. Now Underwater Moonlight has been reissued in a deluxe two-CD edition by the fine folks at Matador. Along with the original album and outtakes, the second CD offers nearly an hour of rehearsal tape. But it's not the extra material available that makes this reissue essential, it's simply making the material available again after years of being out of print.

Though Soft Boys leader Robyn Hitchcock would go on to gain more visible acclaim with his work with the Egyptians (while Kimberly Rew went back to Katrina and the Waves and Matt Seligman did studio work), Underwater Moonlight still stands as the most cohesive example of the group's amalgamated influences. Byrdsian in its softer moments ("Queen of Eyes") and Kinks-ish when laying into it, Underwater Moonlight starts with one of the most acerbic opening tracks, "I Wanna Destroy You," since Iggy and the Stooges' Raw Power jumped out the gate with "Search and Destroy."

While much of Underwater Moonlight betrays the kind of absurdist psychedelia of Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa ("I Got the Hots for You" is a prime example) — with a fascination for food worthy of nervous breakdown-era Brian Wilson — the quality of the original album is no joke. Several of the outtakes are no throwaways, either, though the rehearsal tapes are for fanatics only. Complemented by a lengthy essay by Rolling Stone critic David Fricke, Underwater Moonlight, when held up to the light, shows why it left an indelible watermark.