The Feelies are one of those bands who may justifiably be referred to as ‘cult’ and ‘influential.’ Despite a career spanning 16 years from 1976 to 1992, they released only four albums, with their debut, Crazy Rhythms receiving broad critical acclaim – at least retrospectively: Rolling Stone voted it in at number 49 in the top 100 albums of the 1980s, while Spin Magazine also named it among their 49 of the best alternative records of all time.
Since their return in 2008, they’ve played a fair few shows, and the first two albums have been reissued. In the absence of any new material (in keeping with their established work-rate), it seems like a fair time to re-evaluate albums number three and four, finally getting the reissue treatment courtesy of Bar/None Records.
Originally released in 1988, Only Life was their third album, and the first that received major label promotional support. There’s still a homespun raggedness to it, in terms of the vocal delivery and the production, and that’s much of its charm. It also reminds us that there was a time when major labels backed alternative bands and let them do what it was that they did. They put out bands because they were good, and had a following. Niche markets counted. It wasn’t even a bad strategy: cult bands have devoted fans, who will purchase product. They may sell albums in smaller quantities, but those sales are assured, and the bands, having already built their fan-base the hard way. As such, Only Life is a quintessential late 80s US alternative / indie rock album. In some regards, it’s of its time, but then again, there’s much to be learned from history. It’s also got no shortage of decent songs on it. And songs are important.
1991’s Time for a Witness marked not exactly a change of direction, but certainly a weightier sound. In hindsight, it can be seen to have prefaced the arrival of grunge. Of course, by 1991, Dinosaur Jr and The Pixies were already making waves on the alternative circuit, and it’s a fact that whatever hits the mainstream as happening beneath the radar long before.
And so it is that Time for a Witness does indeed feature some soloing to rival J Mascis, against a backdrop of fuzzed-out guitars, not least of all on the opener ‘Waiting.’ But elsewhere there’s a rockabilly vibe reminiscent of The Gun Club, not to mention a jaunty Tom Petty does indie rock tone.
Not so very long ago, it may have sounded vaguely dated, a product of its time. But while the political landscape becomes increasingly narrow-minded on this fucked-up planet we find ourselves inhabiting, music is the one field where now, more than ever, a willingness to embrace everything and to simply celebrate the diversity an endless reinvention of the past makes it possible to revisit and appreciate albums that aren’t quite ‘vintage’ but are far from new. And in this context, these two (re)releases feel vibrant, dynamic, and above all, worthy of your time.
Only Life and Time For A Witness are released by BarNone Records