It’s fascinating that over the course of a single album it slowly becomes clear that disparate bands like Interpol and Vampire Weekend clearly owe debts to the Feelies. Crazy Rhythms (1980) stands as a wildly inventive and influential record that stands shoulder to shoulder with some of the best music of the American post-punk era. With their very first album, the Feelies managed to speak directly to the zeitgeist of the American independent underground without becoming overexposed or repetitive.
The opening “The Boy With the Perpetual Nervousness” tells a tale of the strange boy next door with tense, rhythmic guitar chords and syncopated drums. The track fades in and builds to a tout stasis, as many of the songs on Crazy Rhythms do, and acts as a sort of mission statement for the band on their debut. Apart from the manic, signature single, “Fa Cé-La”, the Feelies create a foreboding atmosphere across the album through slow builds punctuated by slashing chords and restless movement. The dual guitar action of Bill Million and Glenn Mercer recall shades of Television but come off as less-classic rock and more post-punk experimentation.
Going against the music industry practice of releasing a quick followup to a well-received album, the group allowed six years to pass between Crazy Rhythms and The Good Earth. The members of the Feelies embarked on a number of side projects in the interim, but entered the studio with a clear vision for the sessions in 1986. R.E.M. guitarist and Feelies fan Peter Buck produced the record, setting up easy comparisons to R.E.M. that seem apt at times, but unfair at others. The album does feel like the work of a band more at ease with themselves with their strummed acoustic guitars and low-key vocals. While The Good Earth has a more pastoral feel similar to some of R.E.M.’s early work, the rhythmic intensity, the interlocking guitars, and sinister overtones could only be the Feelies, even if the band veers dangerously near Lou Reed territory at times. The low vocal mix may be off-putting to some, but excellent songs like “Slipping (Into Something)” and “Two Rooms” erase any doubt that the band remained vital after their hiatus.
Wanting to maintain the integrity of the original releases, the band declined to include bonus tracks on the physical versions of the re-released albums. However, a small card included with the physical products allows buyers to access a digital version of each album, complete with bonus tracks. The digital version of Crazy Rhythms includes a live cover of “I Wanna Sleep in Your Arms” by the Modern Lovers. The Feelies do little to change the hyperactive contours of the track, but their nervous energy perfectly matches the original in such a way that altering it would seem a disservice. The digital download of The Good Earth finds the band offering a punched-up cover of “She Said, She Said” by the Beatles. The extra tracks are worthy inclusions on both releases, as are each album’s expanded liner notes, especially Peter Buck’s quotations in the notes to The Good Earth.
The Feelies, reunited with their classic lineup, will play the All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival in Monticello, New York on September 11, 2009 alongside some of indie’s most popular acts. The band will perform Crazy Rhythms in its entirety and the occasion, like the re-release of these two fine albums, will undoubtedly provide a forehead-slapping moment for the uninitiated when the double helix reveals itself and triumphantly twists in full view.