In touch with the Feelies


THIS week’s choice will never feature, I’ll wager, in anyone’s top ten of rock and roll heroes. They wouldn’t even be in my own top hundred. But the three albums produced in the 1980s by the Feelies have a regular habit of finding themselves on my turntable.

The band, named after films which are enjoyed through touch as well as sight and sound in Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, were formed in the late 1970s in New Jersey. Heavily influenced by the Velvet Underground, they released their first single, Fa Cé-La, on Rough Trade records in 1979.

They moved to the British label Stiff, home of Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, the Damned and Ian Dury in 1980 for their debut album, Crazy Rhythms. The personnel comprised Glenn Mercer and Bill Million on guitars and vocals, Anton Fier on drums and Keith De Nunzio on bass.

The first track, Boy With Perpetual Nervousness, starts with a long silence punctuated by the odd plink and plonk before the guitars start to kick in slightly. They gather volume until the minute mark, when the drums arrive, and it is only at 84 seconds that the Jonathan Richman-style singing begins. With their post-punk contemporaries intent on grab-you-by-the-throat immediacy, this is a clear statement by the Feelies that they do things their own way.

The next track, Fa Cé-La, is a more frantic affair with some deranged guitar playing from Mercer. This is followed by the excellent Loveless Love, another slow-burner which begins with a gentle chord sequence borrowed from, I believe, Robert Fripp and Brian Eno’s magicaEvening Star, then morphs into a Dick Dale-style rocker before the vocals come in after fully two and a half minutes. Forces At Work employs the same tactics, as do Moscow Nights and Raised Eyebrows. The intros are so long that one suspects they are to disguise a lack of songs in the repertoire but since it’s only their first album they can be forgiven.

The second, The Good Earth, did not emerge until 1986 but was worth the wait. This is a great record. One of the co-producers was Peter Buck, of REM, who toured with the Feelies that year, as did Lou Reed.

I love almost every track on The Good Earth. It opens with On The Roof and The High Road, and track four is Slipping into Something, with vocals sounding eerily like Reed. Let’s Go, Two Rooms, the title track and Tomorrow Today all bear repeated listenings.

OK, the Feelies are derivative, sounding by turns like the Velvets, the Smiths, even the unjustly derided Lloyd Cole and the Commotions. But who, apart from Hendrix, Dylan, Mitchell and a few more, can claim to be totally original? OK, Joanna Newsom. I rest my case.

That same year the band featured in the wacky movie Something Wild, directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Jeff Daniels and Melanie Griffith, when her charms were still natural and she had yet to resort to cosmetic surgery. Billed as The Willies, they play during a scene at a high school reunion with the set including their own Crazy Rhythms and Loveless Love plus covers of Bowie’s Fame and the Monkees’ I’m A Believer.

Album number three, Only Life, was released in 1988 and keeps up the good work. Standouts for me are It’s Only LifeToo MuchDeep Fascination, the lovely Higher Ground and For Awhile.

And that is about it for me, so far as the Feelies are concerned. They made another album in 1992, Time For A Witness, and a couple of comeback records this century, but I prefer to stick with the first three. As I said, never earth-shattering but never disappointing either.

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