The Feelies - Only Life
I have always found comparisons (usually poor ones at that) of the Feelies and the Velvet underground to be misplaced. A good example of this can be found in their cover of "What Goes On", the last track on Only Life. The Feelies' version is full of jangly guitars which add a zest and a life to the rather flat and soulless original. The same could indeed be said for the way the Feelies have approached their mimicry of the Velvet Underground generally. The rather boring and overly-serious approach of the Velvet Underground has been replaced by fun. In some ways, the sound more closely resembles that of early Television, particularly when you hear the stark guitars and the extended guitar pieces.
Only Life was their third album and the first they did for a major label. It is also regarded as something of a poor relation to their two earlier albums which had a six year gap between their release. That criticism is unfair for Only Life is in many ways the pinnacle of their sound. The sloppiness and poor quality of some of their earlier recordings has gone. What they have done is taken their simple sound and made out of it ten tracks which are all uniquely different in their sameness.
And how similar it all sounds! Never let it be said that the Feelies were ones for deviating much from an established format. Two intertwinging jangly guitars form the basis, one of which occasionally goes off into a solo which is notable largely for being the same chord sequence played in different octaves and with different levels of reverb or echo. Then you have a bass barely noticeable and some solid drumming to underpin the whole thing. Throw in a couple of chord changes here and the odd tempo shift there and overlay with those deadpan vocals with lyrics which seem to glorify the difficulty in getting excited about anything, and there you have it. The Feelies in a nutshell.
The glorious thing is that it all works. "Higher Ground" may be a thrilling love song, but you'd never know it. "For Awhile" may be a confident, even smug exposition of a band in its comfort zone, but they are among the standout tracks of the album. Then again, "Away" has some truly exceptional guitar work; shimmering guitar sounds work their way across the face of the track almost as if they were banjos instead of guitars.
What you have then is a fine piece of late eighties music which defies pigeonholing, pretty much like the band themselves. While it may have its genesis in the new wave scene, it draws on influences much older. It is understated to an extent that it almost defies belief, yet that the kernel of its excellence. You may put this on and relax but it will creep up on you and hit you when you least expect it. Soon you'll find yourself muttering "It's only life, it's only life" or twittering that guitar line in "Away" with a diddly-diddly-diddly-diddly-diddly.
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