The Feelies – “Crazy Rhythms” (1980)

December 18, 2009 at 8:59 am (Music, Reviews & Articles)

This undated 2009 review (probably very recent) by Gabe Vodicka comes from the Tiny Mix Tapes website (link below). The Feelies were one of the more quirky, highly-lauded but somewhat obscure New Wave bands of the early 80s, and were a huge influence on many later groups. Especially this, their first and best album…

As a genre, new wave is one tricky son of a bitch. It gave us some of the most artistically remarkable and blatantly self-indulgent music of the 1970s and 80s, from Talking Heads to Culture Club, Joy Division to A Flock of Seagulls. Then there are The Feelies. Cited by later, more illustrious bands as an important influence, the group may not have graced the covers of glossy magazines during their modest zenith, but those who heard them would drop their name left and right. It is not difficult to see how or why this occurred — at their best, The Feelies were what R.E.M. always hoped, but never had the cojones, to be: carefree, reckless, fun.

But forget R.E.M. The Feelies, and specifically their stellar debut, deserve a review based on their music’s own merit. Crazy Rhythms, released in April 1980 amongst a veritable shitstorm of like-minded groups, stands grinning madly at the top of the pile — a shining monument to new wave at its quirky best. Many bands of the era shared certain inexorable similarities, and these guys prove no exception to the rule: yelping, loopy vocals; clean, noodly guitar (“angular” by todays parlance); quick, driving rhythms. However, The Feelies stand out because of their willingness to look beyond the genre’s boundaries and explore some genuinely electrifying territory.

The songs on Crazy Rhythms are individual exercises in the expansion and contraction of energy. Opener “The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness” begins in complete silence before a couple snaps and clicks announce its advent. Drummer Anton Fier quickly throws a Krautrock beat on super-overdrive, accompanied by a first two-chord guitar line, then another more intricate line, then a third, and so on. The song begins on the ground and ends up, like most Feelies tunes, somewhere in the stratosphere. But this is not some strange species of psychedelia; that word is bandied about carelessly these days, and these songs are too quick, too tightly wound for such a loose, unflattering term. No, this is pop music, albeit pop music with legs. Sonic Youth’s seminal Sister comes to mind, if they had been even more concerned with crafting hooks than noise.

Indeed, where The Feelies so often succeed is where others fall short; ironically, given the title of the album, it’s not the beat which elevates these dudes, it’s their sense of melody. The album’s first single, the catchy standout “Fa Cé-La,” is a two-minute seminar in tunefulness and — take note bands — tastefulness. A lone acoustic guitar introduces the track, but is soon accented by a potent poom-poom-pah drumbeat and two soaring electric guitars that squeal and moan over the first verse. The simple, mesmeric chorus carries some of the only vocal harmonies on the record and is over before you know it. The guitars wail, more purposefully this time, over the second verse; there is a final chorus, a quick outro, and yep, that just about does it; close ‘er up, nice job!

The following track, “Loveless Love,” begins with some quiet, understated guitar harmonics before unfolding with the agile push-and-pull dynamics employed with constant success on Crazy Rhythms. Most of the song, like the album’s opener, is a two-chord exercise in sped-up Kraut-pop, but right around the 4:15 mark, its stomach bursts — guts fall all ass-out and a great, slithering snake of a guitar line appears. It is decadent and spooky, but blissful, almost orgasmic in its sense of abrupt release. In true Feelies form, this catharsis lasts only 20 seconds before the song is done, spent, kaput. “Can’t relax when there’s things to do,” singer Glenn Mercer declares later on the title track, and one gets the distinct feeling he might be singing about the band’s epileptic artistic process.

Crazy Rhythms is brilliant and indispensable, partly because it doesn’t beg to be dissected and explained, but simply to be listened to and absorbed. It’s a difficult album to write about from any typical critical standpoint — there is little embellishment to be found here, no studio trickery, no misguided pomposity of any sort. Even the requisite cover (a Beatles cover at that — who are these guys, Aerosmith?) manages to avoid the pitfalls such undertakings generally risk by instantly becoming, well, a Feelies tune. It’s fun, fast, and melodious, and it works — nah, it rules. This album just plain rules. So frequently the records we deem Great and Important are difficult, unapproachable, pedantic. How refreshing it is when one of them just wants us to dance.

Gabe Vodicka

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The Beatles – “The White Album” (1968)

December 18, 2009 at 7:21 am (Music, Reviews & Articles, The Beatles)

This Nov. 29, 1968 review of The Beatles (aka The White Album) comes from Miles in the International Times a week after the album was released…

Well, the new Beatle album’s here with 30 catchy little numbers for you to whistle on your way to work, glide around the Mecca to, swoon in your bed-sit, dance to at the hoe-down, play down on the farm, revive the jive, stomp to at your local rock palace or sing on the way to Grosvenor Square.

Naturally those who think they are the fool on the hill, who deciphered a secret message from ‘A Day in the Life’ by playing it at 16 revs backwards, who discovered that ‘Hey Jude’ was a message to Dylan asking him to do more live performances, and who found that almost every track on the last 3 albums have been about drugs, will have a field day here: Beatles is loaded with open-ended lines just waiting :for someone to decipher!

It spans a very wide arc, exemplified by the last two tracks, neither of which are much good. ‘Revolution No 9’ consists of 7 minutes of loop tapes, gunfire, crowd scenes, little readings of philosophy, orchestras, classical music etc. John Cage will love them for it because it is the same as ‘Fontana Mix’ which he made years ago, only the Beatles record will reach an entirely new audience. Cage wants people to listen to his random sound because it frees their ears from always wanting sounds to be arranged and presented before they will listen attentively to them. The Beatles presumably want to do the same. It’s a lot of damn noise just like you hear everyday and as such is valid.

As a creative effort the Beatles’ usual skill of editing is lacking and the combinations are not very imaginative. ‘Goodnight’ is one for Bing Crosby, Jimmy Young and the Mums – taken a bit further it would have come out the other side and worked, as it is, this only happens in a few places so it just sounds over-orchestrated. However the vast majority of this 2-vol set is admirable, archetypal Beatle music.

The Beatles have arranged and orchestrated more than ever before and in doing so created some very beautiful music, they take risks which no-one else would dare to do and they all come off. A run down on some of the tracks is as follows:

‘Back In the USSR’ is of course parody of Chuck Berry’s ‘Back in the USA’ only this medium rocker doesn’t put down the USSR, it parodies the USA. It’s followed by Ringo’s fine drumming at the end with long sweeps round the drum set. ‘Glass Onion’ is another parody number, like Malle’s Zazie it refers back to previous hits. In the manner of James Brown ‘I Told You About the Fool on the Hill…’ a nice tight rocker with masterly editing to look out for.

‘Honey-Pie’ is a musical fragment presented as the Beach Boys did on Smiley Smile. ‘Bungalow Bill’ is a typical piece of Beatle editing, the tune changes, each fragment of tune having bridges. Very complex music using the old backwards tape to great effect and little fragments of ‘Lucie In the Sky’. It comes out very clean and fresh, though it probably took ages to make. A song with a message.

George’s ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’, has nice hi-hats from Ringo but the guitar is lifeless – it’s another great tune, though.

‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’ is one of the greatest numbers on the album. Again a very complex construction in which the music has three distinct phases ending with a touch of the ’50s “Happiness Is a Warm Gun – bang! Choo! Choo!”. It has a fine developing deep bass line and uses a snatch from ‘Angel Baby’ by Rosie & the Originals at the end.

‘Martha My Dear’ is Paul’s song about his dog, a ballad which develops into a slow rocker. Has the vocal line followed by a string quartet – very lyrical. John’s ‘So Tired’ has a Beach Boys touch to it, and more good drumming from Ringo. ‘Blackbird’ has Paul accompanying himself with acoustic guitar and blackbirds. One of the most beautiful songs on the album. ‘The Pig Song’ is unsubtle but will probably find favour with those involved with Chicago’s pig-police. ‘Rocky Raccoon’ is a sort of John Wesley Harding number with honky tonk piano and leads from folk into Ringo’s C&W number ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ which has an excellent fiddle player and a bag-pipe effect. A great song.

After a couple of ballads comes ‘Happy Birthday’, a vital, freely improvised rocker using the intro to ‘Just a Little Bit’ by Rosco Gordon. A little later we have ‘Yer Blues’ with a fuzzy growling solo from John followed by a high shrieking solo from George. I didn’t like this one as much as the critics. On ‘Everybody’s Got Something to Hide Except Me & My Monkey’ we have a great set of lyrics for those who want to read drug meanings in. It ends with Bo Diddly, clanging bells and “come-on, come-on, come-on” like the ‘Gobble Chorus’ by the Fugs. ‘Sexy Sadie’ is the ‘Meter Maid’ of this album. A vibrato piano and that strange melancholy that the Beatles often project on songs like this. A type of sadness peculiar to them. ‘Helter Skelter’ is probably the heaviest rocker on plastic today.

Side 4 opens with an early take of ‘Revolution’ in which the meaning of the words is changed by the slow beat.

‘Working Girl’ is a 1930’s swing ballad followed by George’s ‘Savoy Truffle’ is the best track on this side. Beautiful, impressionistic music. Don’t miss this one. ‘Cry, Baby, Cry’ is a ‘Day in the Life’ type track, then comes the ‘Revolution No 9’ and ‘Goodnight’. Paul dominates this album completely. His musical ideas permeate every track and the sleeve as well. He has taken the many sides to the Beatles and balanced them in the best album of 1968.


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