Unless you were really, really hip in the late ‘70s, chances are you hadn’t heard of The Soft Boys until much later, in the context of being Robyn Hitchcock’s first band, or maybe as the precursor to Katrina & The Waves. At any rate, as their catalog has been reissued for the third time, a summary is overdue.
Not exactly punk and not yet power-pop, they recorded a few singles and EPs before finally completing their first album, and A Can Of Bees comes across as something of an assault. “Give It To The Soft Boys” and “The Pigworker” are based on slightly atonal riffs and Robyn’s highly unmelodic vocalizing; here’s where the influence of Captain Beefheart is most apparent. “Human Music” is a little more tuneful, beginning with a nice guitar motif and continuing under some Byrdsian harmonies. “Leppo And The Jooves” sounds even more like the Robyn people knew in the ‘80s, if only because the song was featured on Gotta Let This Hen Out! The stilted rhythms of “The Rat’s Prayer”, unsurprisingly, recall Syd Barrett.
Mostly instrumental, “Do The Chisel” dares you to dance, as does, in its own way, “Return Of The Sacred Crab”. “Sandra’s Having Her Brain Out” manages to straddle about five different sections while insulting feminists. Oddly, three live tracks end the album: a pretty straight cover of John Lennon’s “Cold Turkey”, the frenetic “School Dinner Blues”, and the even faster “Wading Through A Ventilator”.
When taken within context, A Can Of Bees fits neatly inside the Robyn Hitchcock story, but it certainly startles. Since its first appearance the contents have been shuffled a bit, but now that it’s available again on the Yep Roc label, the original 11-song sequence comes with a download link for nine additional songs from the same period.
The Soft Boys A Can Of Bees (1979)—3
1992 Rykodisc reissue: same as 1979, plus 6 extra tracks