The Feelies – Crazy Rhythms and The Good Earth (Bar/None Records)


1980’s Crazy Rhythms, was The Feelies’ best. A fully realized album by a bunch of wiry nerds that condensed The Modern Lovers, The Velvet Underground, The Talking Heads, The Stooges, Can and Robert Fripp into something of their own making. Most of the songs are manic jolts of suburban paranoia and longing, defined by the weird, Lou Reed-meets-Jonathan Richman voice of Glen Mercer and the propulsive drumming of Anton Fier (formerly of Pere Ubu), which was augmented by the titular “crazy rhythms” of percussionist Dave Weckerman. The band had great songs to, with “Fa-Ce La”, “Loveless Love” and “Moscow Nights” setting up the template for much of the American indie-rock to follow (R.E.M. and the Violent Femmes were taking notes), but it’s their almost obsessive attention to detail that makes this album a classic. Having formed eight years prior to its release, leaders Mercer and Bill Million had the time to refine their songs, carefully placing every note, every vocal inflection, every beat, exactly where they wanted it. The stories about their intensity and vision are the stuff of legend (and perhaps not completely true): they forbid one drummer from hitting cymbals because the “frequencies cut into their guitar sounds”. They hated driving from New Jersey into New York because the tunnel gave them headaches. Their live performances were so manic that Fier often became sick behind his kit, and so on. Perhaps the most telling anecdote about the band’s quest for perfection was that they were voted the best underground band by The Village Voice in 1978 (a prestigious distinction considering the quality of New York bands at that time) but didn’t release a debut album until a full two years later. Obsessive they may have been (producers and sound-men probably had dartboards with their pictures on it), but that obsession paid off with one of the all-time great albums. The bonus tracks are an interesting addition: There’s an early, version of “Fa-Ce La” from a lo-fi single, pretty fleshed-out demos of “Moscow Nights” and “The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness,” a live version of the title track and a frenetic live cover of the Modern Lovers rarity “I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms” taken from their recent reunion shows. My only complaint is that  the band’s cover of “Paint It Black,” which was included as a bonus tack on the previous CD issue, isn’t here.

The band took six years between Crazy Rhythm’s and its follow-up, The Good Earth, which released in 1986. During that time they splintered off into other projects, re-tooled their rhythm section (a crucial move for them), switched labels, and decided to take a relaxed approach to songwriting by waiting for songs to come to them rather than feeling like they had to write. It’s that relaxed approach that informs the album‘s sound. Although there are traces of the old Crazy Rhythms sound (especially on the excellent “The Last Roundup” and “Two Rooms”), the band had mellowed out and opted for slower tempos, more subdued vocals and even acoustic guitars on a few numbers. Producer Peter Buck (R.E.M.) gets a lot of credit for shaping the album’s sound (there are some similarities between it and R.E.M.’s early albums), but according to the way he tells it in the liner notes, he just recorded the songs the way the band wanted them to sound, without putting his own stamp on it. Although it’s a good album, it doesn’t have the same white-hot level of playing they had six years earlier. However, you can hear the influence it would have on bands like Yo La Tengo (Ira Kaplan worked the sound for many of their Hoboken shows) and Luna (whose Stanley Demeski makes his recorded debut as the drummer on this album). The bonus tracks include a tight live version of “Slipping (Into Something)” and well-chosen covers of “She Said, She Said” and Neil Young’s “Sedan Delivery”.

The newly remastered reissues have significantly better sound quality than previous CD versions where it was very hard to pick out all the intricacies of The Feelies’ sound. Get ‘em.

Tracklisting:

Crazy Rhythms

1. The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness
2. Fa cé-La
3. Loveless Love
4. Forces At Work
5. Original Love
6. Everybody’s Got Something To Hide (Except Me And My Monkey)
7. Moscow Nights
8. Raised Eyebrows
9. Crazy Rhythms

Crazy Rhythms Bonus Tracks [on Download card]:
1. Fa cé-La [single version] – originally released as a 7″ on Rough Trade.
2. The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness [Carla Bley demo version]
3. Moscow Nights [Carla Bley demo version]
4. Crazy Rhythms [Live] – From the 9:30 Club (Washington D.C.), recorded March 14, 2009.
5. I Wanna Sleep In Your Arms [Live] – From the 9:30 Club (Washington D.C.), recorded March 14, 2009. Modern Lovers cover.

 

The Good Earth

1. On The Roof
2. The High Road
3. The Last Roundup
4. Slipping (Into Something)
5. When Company Comes
6. Let’s Go
7. Two Rooms
8. The Good Earth
9. Tomorrow Today
10. Slow Down

The Good Earth Bonus Tracks [on Download card]:
1. She Said, She Said – originally on the “No One Knows” vinyl EP on Coyote Records through Twin/Tone Records (US). Beatles cover.
2. Sedan Delivery – originally on the “No One Knows” vinyl EP on Coyote Records through Twin/Tone Records (US). Neil Young cover.
3. Slipping (Into Something) [Live] – From the 9:30 Club (Washington D.C.), recorded March 14, 2009.

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