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The Feelies Crazy Rhythms Review

Album. Released 2009.  

BBC Review

1978’s best underground band in New York get the reissue treatment.

Barney Hoskyns 2009

The fact that The Feelies came from New Jersey – and complained that driving to Manhattan through the Holland Tunnel gave them headaches – didn't stop the Village Voice hailing them in 1978 as "the best underground band in New York".

The Haledon quartet sounded even less like an orthodox rock group than all the other sexless white-boy post-punk bands coming out of New York, London and Manchester in 1978. They looked like preppie geeks – or like Vampire Weekend – and sounded approximately like a composite of Wire, Magazine, Dream Syndicate and Orange Juice. But their sound was bracingly devoid of hooks and harmonies – school of Velvet Underground/Modern Lovers, to be sure, but with muffled Idiot-Iggy-meets-Edwyn-Collins vocals submerged under rumbling floor-tom rhythms and one- or two-chord guitar drones. You could hardly tell what Glenn Mercer and Bill Million sang about: sometimes they cancelled each other out altogether.

They were one of the most unlikely bands to end up on Stiff, who bemusedly played them Lene Lovich's hit Lucky Number in an attempt to steer them towards more commercial pop. The UK label clearly didn't grasp the fact that they made Television sound like Van Halen, their nervy inscrutableness manifested in strangely shapeless compositions and impassive lines like, "You remind me of a TV show / Well, that's alright, I'll watch it anyway..."

Thudding drums and jerky guitars slowly emerge from amorphously ambient intros but rarely build in a conventionally dramatic way. Riffs circle back on themselves or just settle into cerebral trance-grooves. A curious choice of cover – The Beatles' Everybody's Got Something to Hide (Except for Me and My Monkey) – is as nonplussing as anything else on 1980's Crazy Rhythms. They sound so of the moment they could be a new American band signed to Domino, the UK label that has fittingly reissued Crazy Rhythms and 1986's The Good Earth.

This is music that can't really make up its mind whether it's rock or not. It's so intent on not being rock that it almost fails to engage at all. But something pulls you in, keeps you coming back for more.

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