Review: The Feelies – “Only Life”
As I could be accused of partisanship, I declare immediately my factiousness towards The Feelies of Bill Million and Glenn Mercer, group that still today I repute one of the most important and underestimated bands of the 1980s. A group that, although listened by “few happy” fans back in the 1980s, has inspired pretty much all of those “fews” to start to play.
It happened partly because their LPs (only four, between 1980 and 1991) have been among the first ones that I have purchased when the explosion of CDs caused a general rush to sell vinyls and partly because they are healthy carrier of an attitude of “do it by yourself” that seems to me become a rare commodity in the today’s music scene: cultured without being highbrow, elaborate without declining in a sort of gym for self-enjoyments, confused without waffling.
It is as if in the DNA of the group the unmistakable traces of the accidental aggregation between Million and Mercer (both timewaster students in the New Jersey) and their way as unpredictable as effective to mix new-wave and rock’n’roll, minimalists geometries and electric jolts stand the test of time. The accidental partnership between the duos and the drummer Anton Fier led the band to look like a melting pot of people since their very first album, Crazy Rhytms (1980): together with Million and Mercer the rhythm section of Andy Fisher (drums) and Keith Clayton (bass guitar) contributed to lavish martial dazed folk-rock hypnosis.
After six years (!), The Good Earth (1986) shuffled the deck through both a sounds remarkably more root and the new violinist, Brenda Sauter, percussionist, Dave Weckerman, and most importantly through the sharp strokes of the incredible drummer Stan Demeski. The same changes applied to the following Only Life (1988) and to the garage-style Time For A Witness (1991).
Instead of the choice of the opponents of the classic-rock – the nervous Crazy Rhytms – or the one made by the promoters of the purity of the structure of the songs – the country-ish The Good Earth -, to represent the peculiarity of the group I would choose their crucial third release – Only Life – because it summarizes the characteristics of the first two works without forgetting to foretell the hard disorders of the only descendant.
Too much ordinary according to some; too much cautious according to others. Only Life sounds as the best possible summary of the numerous poetics of The Feelies and their propensity to slip with irony and fatalism between experimental parenthesis and the American tradition, with spikes of punk and sudden drops in the most glacial and hallucinated folk.
In Only Life there is everything for every parts of the one’s nemesis. This doesn’t mean, nevertheless, that the tracks of the album are in disharmony one to another. Vice versa, it is as if every change of direction could illuminate with a new light the old trajectory and, at the same time, allow the new one to continue the walk with a greater authoritativeness.
Together with a revised and corrected country-rock paraphrase of Heroin (Away) and with other episodes where Million and Mercer have the chance to discharge their personal obsession for the rocking and lightening talks of Lou Reed (i.e. listen to the glowing cover of What Goes On by Velvet Underground), here they come puzzling naturalness improvisations between folk and jazz (Too Much), psych bourdons (It’s Only Life), R’n’R jumps (Deep Fascination), implacable new-wave fidgets (Too Do Gone), ambient rides (For Awhile), and non-stop tour-de-force of drums and percussions (The Undertow).
For a long time, Only Life has been impossible to find in the digital format. Now, it has just been re-published by Runt although it would have been better saying “re-packaged”. In fact, besides an acceptable cleaning up of the sounds, nothing has been added to the original product. No sweats though. Higher Ground – one of the greatest rock songs of all times – firmly remains anchored to its own part of eternity, and The Feelies remain a band to know at all costs either with bonus-tracks or without.
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