The Feelies

Crazy Rhythms & The Good Earth (reissues)

Glenn Mercer and Bill Million’s brilliant Feelies have long been unfairly overlooked in histories of New York’s punk and new wave era. Expressing neurosis where the similarly influenced Jonathan Richman had indulged in infantilism, the New Jersey natives played up the suburban weirdness to the extent that crack drummer Anton Fier was renamed ‘Andy Fisher’ and bassist Keith DeNunzio became Keith Clayton (weirdly, Million’s real surname) while the famous four-geek sleeve photo of Crazy Rhythms, their 1980 debut, certainly appealed to Weezer.

It still sounds great too. There are so many highlights here, such as the woozy guitar scales, nearer to a fairground organ, that whisk the pretty, unresolved ‘Loveless Love’ away and Mercer’s terrifically pretty yet harsh solos that punctuate the mysterious ‘Moscow Nights’. Their virtual theme tune ‘The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness’, a two-chord itch that can’t quite be scratched, is as onomatopoeic as rock music gets. The original Rough Trade single version of ‘Fa Ce La’ was certainly punchier than the album take, but punch was never the Feelies’ forte. These songs are always moving, skittish yet precise. The Beatles’ ‘Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me and My Monkey’ is a perfect choice of cover, yet their complex and layered percussion is way ahead of Ringo’s cowbell. Too idiosyncratic even for notoriously quirky British indie Stiff, this clever, haunting record went from undeserved flop to cult classic.

The Good Earth, co-produced by the not-yet-a-superstar Peter Buck, appeared a full six years later and is far less strident, its muffled repetition and prominent piano lines pitching it somewhere between the Velvets and the Band, neatly covering the urban/rustic divide and making it certain to appeal to those taken by the opacity of REM’s early offerings. Yet the stinging single-note lead guitar punctuating opener ‘On The Roof’ could only be Glenn Mercer, while the lovely, distinctly country inflected ‘The High Road’ is as relaxed as the previous record was not. The subtle drones of ‘Slipping (Into Something)’, as measured a piece of neo-psychedelia as ever recorded, are equally exploratory, while the less successful ‘Tomorrow Today’ is almost epic, martial drumbeats and multi-tracked guitars juxtaposed with Mercer’s barely audible vocals. Already you can hear them slipping away from the mainstream, even as Buck’s boys went over the top.

Even these editions retain their integrity, unpadded and concise, the handful of bonus tracks for download only. Thanks to Domino then for two more welcome reissues (except from me, now stuck with a pair of suddenly unrare originals, dagnamit).

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