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24 September 2014

The Feelies - 'The Good Earth' (Domino/Coyote)

There was quite a hiatus before this appeared and when it did, it was almost shocking - gone are the jittery rhythms and angular guitar leads, replaced by languid, open-chord strums. And I think they're a better band for it. Was it a brave choice, turning down the energy and looking for something else; or was it a crass appeal to commercial pressures, fitting into the jangly 'college rock' vibe of the late 1980s? I don't buy it that turning down and simplifying - and consciously removing your 'edge' - is a sign of selling out or lesser quality music. The Good Earth is a masterpiece, clearly one of the high water marks of American rock in the 80s and the Feelies' finest achievement. And they have the distinction of being a band that simultaneously influenced R.E.M. (with their first album) and was influenced by R.E.M. (here). Though R.E.M. is a bit of an easy comparison, just because there's arpeggios galore and a solid backbeat; I also hear traces of country standards, blues/spirituals, and of course folk. There's a cowboy vibe to 'Tomorrow Today', which utilises the new rhythm section of Brenda Sauter, Dave Weckerman and Stan Demeski to great success. 'Slipping (Into Something)' and 'Let's Go' are not too far from the songwriting of Crazy Rhythms, just using a different arrangement to the same tension and cadences. 'The Last Roundup' is the most indicative of the earlier material, probably a holdover, with lots of frantic strumming and the two percussionists used to full effect. The highlight of this record for me, and therefore of The Feelies, is 'When Company Comes', the most simple sketch of a song, built around three chords strummed and with a chorus of nearly wordless vocals, topped with some searing guitar notes. It's pure psychedelia, but like you've never heard before. I don't know why it moves me so much - maybe, when combined with the speaking voices mixed into the end and the way it comes as the last song on side one (which is always the best position for a song, in my opinion), it all amalgamates into some lost, wispy alternative Americana that I can't remember (I was six when this came out) but yearn for anyway. (hint: it never existed)

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