First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2011, Volume 18, #9
Written by John Metzger
Fri December 16, 2011, 05:30 AM CST
The Feelies has always had a certain knack for showing up when fans least expect it. The group first surfaced in 1980 with Crazy Rhythms, an album that was infused with jittery, jagged blasts of post-punk energy. Then, as quickly as it appeared, The Feelies vanished, defying the accolades it had received and denying its fans exactly what they wanted ó a worthy successor to the groupís exhilarating debut.
By the time that it returned to the spotlight in 1986 with The Good Earth, The Feelies not only boasted a new rhythm section, but it also had rejiggered its sound ever so slightly. In essence, Glenn Mercer and Bill Million had further embraced the power-pop grooves of The Velvet Undergroundís Loaded, while repositioning The Feelies ó with help from Peter Buck ó to be the heir apparent to R.E.M. A few fans cried foul, and their voices grew louder as the group jumped into the major-label waters a few years later with Time for a Witness. For the most part, though, nothing seemed capable of stopping The Feeliesí upward trajectory.
In the wake of Time for a Witness, however, The Feelies disbanded. Oddly enough, it was drummer Stanley Demeski ó not Mercer or Million ó who seemed to carry the torch for The Feelies. Odder still, he did it not as songwriter or frontman, but rather in support of Dean Wareham in Luna. Mercer and Million remained relatively silent until a few years ago when Mercer took a stab at starting a solo career. He soon found himself surrounded by former Feelies, which paved the way for the groupís full-fledged reunion.
Here Before is The Feelies first album in 20 years, and without skipping a beat, it picks up precisely where Time for a Witness ended. This is, of course, both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, there was never anything wrong with The Feeliesí approach, and on Here Before, the outfit so effortlessly glides back into its routine that the set exudes a sense of warm familiarity that fans will find comforting and refreshing. Of course, this also begs the question of how the outfit will proceed since it appears that it largely has found little to add to its well-established formula.
Fortunately, The Feelies seems to understand the predicament in which it finds itself. "Is it too late to do it again? Or should we wait another 10," Mercer quips on opening track Nobody Knows. It is the first of several songs on Here Before that acknowledges the groupís unlikely reunion. The way in which The Feelies smirks at its re-emergence dovetails neatly with the bandís perfect re-creation of its classic sound. The peaceful, jaunty strum of an acoustic guitar, the nervously chugging rhythms, the vibrant peals of an electric guitar ó everything coalesces around The Feeliesí gift for wrapping layers of its garage-bred sound around the simplest of melodies and lyrics.
In a sense, Here Before is a celebration of The Feeliesí career as well as its enduring legacy. Nevertheless, there is one facet to the album that tarnishes the groupís return. Each outing that the band has released in the wake of The Good Earth has been slightly longer than its predecessor. One of The Feeliesí strengths has always been its ability to condense its ideas to the point where the outfit often left its fans wanting more. To put it simply, with 13 tracks, Here Before overstays its welcome. Regardless, the bulk of the set is as good as anything The Feelies has ever done. At its best, Here Before is a long overdue and highly worthwhile addition to the ensembleís canon.
Of Further Interest...
Here Before is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
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