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The Feelies - Crazy Rhythms / The Good Earth

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Artist: The Feelies

Album: Crazy Rhythms / The Good Earth

Label: Bar-None

Review date: Aug. 20, 2009

Released simultaneously, reissues of the two first Feelies albums show how dramatically this band re-imagined itself during the 1980s. Although now mostly identified with jangly college rock (a la REM, the dBs, the Beat Farmers, etc.), the Feelies just missed NYC’s first wave of punk. During their early years, they played the same clubs (CBs, Maxwells) a year or two behind bands like Television, the Talking Heads and the Ramones. Their first album, Crazy Rhythms, released in 1980, bears a strong whiff of that era – lots of jittery rhythms, angst-ridden vocals and a general aura of nervous intelligence. You can hear a little of the band’s later ease and shimmer in cuts like “Original Love” and “Loveless Love,” but for the most part, these songs are twisted tight and punched out hard. The Feelies may never have been a punk band, but they certainly breathed the air.

Six years and a good deal of obstacle-jumping separated Crazy Rhythms from The Good Earth. In between, the ”crazy” rhythm section of Keith DeNunzio and Anton Fier, left the band, and the Feelies fell out with their original label, Stiff. Glenn Mercer and Bill Million sidelined the Feelies for a time during the 1980s, performing as The Trypes, Yung Wu and the Willies around the New York Area. (These gigs also sometimes included members Brenda Sauter, Stanley Demeski, who became part of the Good Earth line-up.)

The Feelies that recorded The Good Earth were a different band – or at least a different version of themselves – than the one who gave us Crazy Rhythms. They had a different label, different people, and different experiences. They also had a very different, and far more congenial, producer. For Crazy Rhythms, the Feelies had grudgingly brought in Peter Ambler, the soundman at CBGBs, when the label wouldn’t let them produce their own debut. For The Good Earth, Peter Buck manned the dials. And somewhere along the way, the whole musical aura around the Feelies became slower, driftier and more elegiac. The drums receded, the vocals turned more sustained and calm, the guitars interlocked not in combat but in delicate lattices of jangle and drone. Crazy Rhythms leads off with the clicking, knocking, one-guitar-note-driven-like-a-spike-into-your-head anxiety of “The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness.” Six years later, The Good Earth, opens with the dreamy jangle of “On the Roof.” “Fa Ce La,” the first album’s single, bristles with adrenaline and rhythmic intensity. “Let’s Go,” the best known song from The Good Earth, builds in slow crescendos and the breezy mesh of dual guitars. Even the relatively percussive “Two Rooms,” with its submerged clattering of toms and aggressive guitars, is mixed so that the main flavor comes from the vocals. It sounds like a superior sort of hammock song, despite the rampage of 16th notes underneath.

Both discs have been remastered, and include a handful of additional tracks. Crazy Rhythms comes packaged with the single version of “Fa Ce La,” demos of “The Boy with the Perpetual Nervousness” and “Moscow Nights” and live versions of “Crazy Rhythms” and the Modern Lovers cover “I Wanna Die in Your Arms.” (The original album’s cover of “Paint It Black,” which the band apparently never liked much, has been taken out.) The Good Earth adds the Beatles cover “He Said/She Said” and “Sedan Delivery,” both from the EP No One Knows, and a live take on “(Slipping) Into Something.” (This latter track makes the case that the Feelies were still pretty raucous live, however lyrical they’d turned in the studio.)

Both albums have their strengths. There’s a raw energy to Crazy Rhythms that sets it apart from any later Feelies efforts. There’s a wonderful sense of space and unhurried musicality in The Good Earth. When you listen to them back to back, you are essentially jumping over five years of unrecorded musical development. The differences are striking, but both versions of this long-overlooked band are worth seeking out.

By Jennifer Kelly

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