[10 June 2009]
The Features have been around in one form or another since 1994, but they’ve never quite made it big. And that’s a shame, because their brand of Southern rock with a British twist was really just ahead of its time. That’s not to say they’ve been completely ignored. In fact, like most Southern rock bands with limited commercial success in the States, they’ve made their way to the U.K., where they’re always willing to welcome anyone with a cowboy hat and dust on their boots. These days everyone from the Killers to Kings of Leon are wearing their Anglophilia on their sleeves, and it’s helped to make them huge overseas. But when the Features first arrived, Britain was still in the dying grip of Cool Britannia and America was watching grunge come to a dismal end. A bunch of Tennessee kids playing Southern-fried Roxy Music just didn’t sell.
Today, what could feel like bandwagon-jumping for other bands makes perfect sense for the Features: their sound has always been a mix of classic American influences and hard-driving British anthems. In many ways, like on “The Temporary Blues,” they’re more like U2 than the Allman Brothers. But they’ve never been as big as they could—or should—have been. Whether or not Some Kind of Salvation will change that is left to be seen, but it’s got a fighting chance.
As a vocalist, Matthew Pelham has an eerie, slightly nasal croon that often sounds as though he’s singing into a valley, aware that no one’s there to listen. It’s suitably epic and undeniably powerful, elevating “Still Lost” from two-minute filler to something genuinely moving. It’s what makes the delicate “Baby’s Hammer” a late-summer elegy, soft and lovely when it needs to be but fully able to bare its teeth. While many bands deliver songs desperately seeking an editor, the Features are the rare band that leaves you wanting more.
The Features are really, in many ways, a most unlikely rock band. They keep on the shorter side in their songs, yes, but they’re not just posing at the altar of the Ramones. Most of the time, their quieter moments are also their strongest. While numbers like “Lions” and “Off Track” have a gruff, Followill brothers swagger, they get left behind by the softer compositions. “Foundation’s Cracked” lulls you into letting your guard down before hitting with a Pixies-inspired chorus, and “All I Ask” is melodic and winning. Both have the good sense to play up Pelham’s vocals and back them with heavy, but never excessive, tunes.
The only real misstep is the disco-influenced “Concrete”. It’s a damn shame to see these rockers, who seem to understand where their talents lie, trying to appease the ‘80s nostalgia currently sweeping both sides of the Atlantic. At heart, the Features are ‘70s boys, and if that’s not fashionable well, forget fashion. They certainly do on “The Drawing Board”, a Southern oompah-band romp that’s still danceable, despite the presence of a tuba. Now that’s impressive.
The Features are currently touring as support for Kings of Leon. And yet, somehow, it seems like it should be the other way around. Because the Features have such a natural style, such a buoyant Southern charm, that a supporting role just doesn’t suit them. They were built to stand out.