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26 September 2014

The Feelies - 'Only Life' (A&M)

I'm such a child of the Internet - well, actually I'm an early adopter, as it's been 21 years since my first email address, in the days of lynx and gopher, but I digress -- and I often forget about how difficult it was to access cultural content before, even before my teenage years. When I listen to the cover of 'What Goes On' which closes out the Feelies third album, Only Life, I think about how discovering the Velvet Underground in 1988 was not as easy as it is now. I'm sure those records were all in print, but they weren't necessarily available at Sam Goody or wherever kids went to buy records then; and you still had to buy them, at least, as opposed to just listening to it on YouTube or whatever. This isn't an original observation, but one that seems to affect how I listen to Only Life in 2014. In some ways it's "another album, another influence" for the Feelies - I always thought of this album as their VU-worship statement, but I'm not sure why I thought that apart from the presence of 'What Goes On'. What this really sounds like is a more polished, more accessible version of The Good Earth. It's on a major label, too, a fact which I genuinely forgot, though it sounds like it; the bigger, bolder drum sounds and soaring vocals, heard right off the bat on 'It's Only Life' and 'Too Much' , which are slightly tailored for the radio of the time (albeit college radio). It's a bit like Hüsker Dü's Warehouse compared to their earlier stuff - not bad, but not as raw and ragged. The Good Earth is a classic because it's not raw or ragged, but it's not like this either. Is it all production? The guitar solos are still sinewy and invigorating, the chord progressions are similar, and the vocals are a tad less understated than before (the 'whoa-oh's and 'away-hey's on 'Too Far Gone' and 'Away', respectively, definitely have more of a power pop feel than the wordless moans of 'When Company Comes', but there's nothing wrong with that). It's not exactly Whitesnake or whatever 1988 sounded like to everyone else; listening for the first time in years, Only Life sounds great, a solid and respectable record. 'Higher Ground', not related to the Stevie Wonder/Red Hot Chili Peppers standard, is booming and gracious. In 'Too Much', Glenn Mercer sounds a tad bit more arena-rock than usual. 'The Undertow' picks up from where 'The Last Roundup' left off, with even more vitriol; 'The Final Word' and 'Too Far Gone'  (no relation to the unreleased Neil Young tune) has some of the 1-2 punch left, sounding like a cross between the first two albums; the vocals are eerily similar to the jumpiness of  'Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness', but then the guitar solo is a smooth beast. Yeah, it's really only 'What Goes On' that makes me associate this album with the VU, and even that sounds more like the Feelies, in the usual spirit of their covers. I don't have Time For a Witness and it looks like they did a reunion album in 2011 (plus, a solo Glenn Mercer record in 2007 that is really good), so the journey ends here.

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