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The Feelies

Here Before

(US: 12 Apr 2011; UK: 16 May 2011)

Same as it ever was

It may seem strange, but the new record by the Feelies sounds just like the old Feelies albums. Because 30 years have passed since the band’s first disc, Crazy Rhythms, and 20 years have gone by since its last release, Time for a Witness, one might think the group or its music had changed. Nope. From the first notes, a jagged acoustic guitar hook, the Feelies’ distinctive style is instantly recognizable. And this continues throughout the rest of the record.


So much time has elapsed that one has to wonder, what the heck took the band so long? One doesn’t have to be a meta-rock critic or a Freudian analyst to find clues all over the song titles and lyrics of the band’s latest disc. Heck, the opening lines to the first song, “Nobody Knows”, goes: “Is it too late/to do it again/or should we wait/another 10?” The album title itself is self-referential about its situation in the same manner. “Everything looks familiar / Like you’ve been here before,” begins the song from which the disc gets its name. The Feelies understand the oddity of performing in the same style as the band had decades ago—with a significant gap of time between albums. The group plays with the concept, but one can sense that the Feelies do not quite understand the why and the wherefore any more than anyone else.


Like that elderly woman behind the counter in a small town, the Feelies changed by not changing at all. The world has. If one considers the band’s heyday (as I would) to be the mid-‘80s with the release of The Good Earth, then one has to be impressed with how much has happened since then: from CDs to MP3s, from President Ronald Reagan to President Barack Obama, to the explosion of the cable TV, the Internet, and cell phones, to way too much to even try and document—things have had a profound effect on our daily lives.


The thing is, the Feelies still sound fresh. It’s not because the band was ahead of its time, whatever that means, but for some reason the sounds of the ‘80s have become current again. Just ask R.E.M., whose new record also invites comparisons to the group it used to be. The Feelies’ music bore some resemblance to R.E.M. back then, and it does so again now, as well.


Dual guitarists and vocalists Glen Mercer and Bill Million sing and strum short lines with unexpected pauses to create little pop epiphanies. The duo are ably abetted on their strange rhythms by long time band members Dave Weckerman (percussion), Brenda Sauter (bass, violin, vocals), and Stan Demski (drums and percussion). The Feelies alt-indie, folk pop style is contemporary by virtue of its similarity to both what’s heard on college radio today and the classic left of the dial stuff from a previous era.


Here Before offers a positive vibe. The tracks depict a world of “Bluer Skies”, where there is always time to “Change Your Mind” because the “Time Is Right”. The Feelies understand that “Morning Comes” and “So Far Now”, it is “Again Today”. As the song titles suggest, the fact that the band is back doing the same things it did best before is a good reason for celebration.

Rating:

Steven Horowitz has a Ph.D. in American Studies from the University of Iowa, where he continues to teach a three-credit online course on "Rock and Roll in America". He has written for many different popular and academic publications including American Music, Paste and the Icon. Horowitz is a firm believer in Paul Goodman's neofunctional perspective on culture and that Sam Cooke was right, a change is gonna come.


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