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BACK TO EARTH

New Musical Express
15th November, 1986

Previously thought extinct, THE FEELIES climb aboard that crazy rhythm train for another ride. 

BRUCE DESSAU catches them before they return to London. 

Photo JOHN BAUMGARTNER.

The Feelies

 

In the rock and roll world of The Feelies, time itself seems to take on a different dimension.

"It's not that we ever split up, it's just that our gigs got further and further apart."

"Like two years apart."

I'm indulging in feathery banter with Glenn Mercer (gaunt, guitar and most vocals) and Bill Million (curls, owlish specs and rest of vocals), together the nucleus and surviving members of the original Feelies line-up.

Devoted readers may remember their last LP 'Crazy Rhythms' (released on Stiff a mere six years ago), a collection of jerky angular pop that captured the David Byrne-preppy mood of the time. So stylish was it, it even appeared just last month on the inner sleeve of Mr. Taste, Nick Heyward's new LP, wherein he is pictured with his oh-so-stylish record collection.

The same month, in fact, that the Feelies released their second LP, 'The Good Earth' on Rough Trade. Zeitgeist or wot? However, the last six years have hardly been periods of total musical inertia for Mercer and Million. They earned considerable kudos by composing the soundtrack to the Richard Hell - featured punksploitation flick Smithereens, and last year Jonathan Demme made Something Wild, a comedy thriller in which the Feelies play the band at a high school reunion.

'The Good Earth' is a more ambient LP than 'Crazy Rhythms', making The Feelies sound something like a stripped-down R.E.M. with greater Woody Guthrie inclinations. In fact the project was co-produced by R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and in many respects there are similarities between the groups. Stipe's lyricism also seems obtuse at best, but Million's are often simply indecipherable.

Bill: "I find it really hard to talk about my lyrics… there is a definite folk element there, which concerns having a home base, er, roots. A lot of groups I really like, like early Rolling Stones, you never really knew what they were singing about but it didn't seem to matter."

In more than a couple of places they come also across as oh-no-not-another-bunch-of-Velvets-copyists.

Glenn: "Well, there are similar moments. 'Slipping (into Something)' is the main one, although I'd say the only real influence the Velvets had on us were the drum patterns".

But when The Feelies take the stage, they come into their own. For all their denials, there is still a definite rock element in their set, doing away with the fidgety rumblings and finery of the vinyl versions.

"When the Replacements toured, they rented an armored truck. Pretty neat, huh? Do you think we can rent one of those in England?"

 

(The Feelies play the University of London Union, Malet Street, this Friday).

 

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