Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Voyage To Illumination: A Look At The New Felt Reissues From Cherry Red Records (And A Quick Review Of The New Go-Kart Mozart Record Too!)

It seems like only yesterday that I was buying a bunch of Felt albums (again) from Cherry Red Records, the last time the fine label put these out in new editions. If it seems too soon for reissues of these records to be hitting the market again, at least the folks at Cherry Red are going all out this time around. The first 5 Felt albums are being released in deluxe versions on vinyl, or on CD with accompanying vinyl 7-inch singles. I think it's safe to say that these 5 records have never been presented so perfectly. And if the slightly-revised track-listing on a few of these reissues bothers the purist in me, the sound quality here is so good that a long-time fan can forgive that level of minor tampering with these long-familiar releases. The same goes for Let The Snakes Crinkle Their Heads To Death being called The Seventeenth Century now.

Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty, the austere debut from 1982, here sounds possibly cavernous, the guitars and drums echoing up from impossible depths to caress a listener, with "I Worship The Sun" and "Fortune" chiming like some unholy mix of The Byrds and Television. The Splendour Of Fear (1984) saw the band indulge themselves a bit, pursuing longer, more moody tracks (the morose "The Stagnant Pool"), while offering up a handful of shorter, brighter numbers ("The World Is As Soft As Lace") that revealed Maurice Deebank as one of the finest guitarists to ever emerge from the British Isles.

The Strange Idols Pattern And Other Short Stories, also from 1984, is where Felt really turned into the Felt we all fell in love with, big hits like "Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow" and "Dismantled King Is Off The Throne" making it clear that front-man Lawrence was a genius-like front-man. Sure, he sounded a whole lot like Tom Verlaine but there was something more lyrical and poetic in his concerns as a lyricist here, even as a number like "Spanish House" indicated that Lawrence was capable of leading this band towards very accessible material. Still, for all that, "Semipiternal Darkness" is given over to Deebank's guitar artistry, mainly, while "Vasco De Gama" is an awkward blend of that nearly-lush melodicism with the singer's seemingly-snide and dour delivery. That it works so well is a marvel now, frankly. This version of The Strange Idols Pattern And Other Short Stories is actually longer than earlier iterations of the record given the addition of the brief-but-lovely "Crucifix Heaven" to the running order of the record.

Ignite The Seven Cannons (1985) saw Felt hook up with Robin Guthrie from the Cocteau Twins, famously. If Guthrie's touch here as producer added a sort of ornate and layered sound to things, it also brought band-mate Liz Fraser to the project to deliver one of the greatest indie singles of all time. If "Primitive Painters" still works, it's thanks to Fraser's amazing voice as, really, on paper, the mash-up of Cocteau Twins and Felt couldn't be more wrong. Still, the song remains a moving listening experience, and one that sounds positively amazing here on this new reissue of Ignite The Seven Cannons. Still, not sure how I feel about John A. Rivers (with Lawrence's blessing, admittedly) restoring this to the non-Guthrie original mixes of the album as, frankly, it feels different now and, say what you will about Robin Guthrie's work on the original version, at least it had a distinctive sound. Now, Ignite The Seven Cannons sounds more like the other early Felt records. Read into that statement what you will.

Finally, in the last of this batch of Felt reissues, we come to The Seventeenth Century (1986), the retitled version of Let The Snakes Crinkle Their Heads To Death. The album consists of a bunch of brief instrumentals and the record is as different from the preceding album as one can possibly imagine. Here, numbers like "Voyage To Illumination" and "Indian Scriptures" succeed on the strength of the keyboard-work from Martin Duffy, later to join Primal Scream. His keys here add a faint jazzy vibe to things that suggests the underlying and persistent beatnik motivations of Lawrence and his crew. If one misses that guy's significant skills as a singer and lyricist, at least the band seems to be amazingly-synced here. One listens to this now and sort of marvels that in the space of only 3 or 4 years Felt had progressed to a place where they felt like they could wipe the slate and offer up something like this, a fairly short record of quiet instrumentals. Imagine Morrissey persuading The Smiths to do that in 1986? You can't.

As we wait for Cherry Red to get around to reissuing the next 5 Felt albums, we can take delight in the arrival of a new album from Go-Kart Mozart, one of the many projects from Lawrence in the post-Felt years. The new record from Go-Kart Mozart, Mozart's Mini-Mart, is full of bright, shiny New Wave of the sort that Lawrence was probably rebelling against way back in the early Eighties when he was writing all those numbers with Felt. Where his earlier band was introspective and given to poetic ruminations on the futility of life, Go-Kart Mozart's output has been one of more accessible (and funny) stuff, and the numbers here on Mozart's Mini-Mart are more of that sort of thing. If "When You're Depressed" features lyrics that seem considered and insightful, the tune is a big, silly bit of electro-pop, complete with a very dated drum sound. Elsewhere, the superb "Relative Poverty" sees Lawrence offer up one of his funniest compositions, and one that sounds more like The Glitter Band than his own earlier acts. Things turn nearly Queen-like on the brief "Facing The Scorn Of Tomorrow's Generation", a lyrical number that is subtle and poignant, and a bit over-the-top simultaneously. If lots of Mozart's Mini-Mart is decidedly lo-fi, at least it sounds like Lawrence is having fun here. As he delivers up these sharply-observed little numbers that blend bits of British music-hall and bright near-glam, one can forgive him for not attempting to write numbers in the same style as Felt anymore. There is, frankly, something more direct here, and if the poetry and mystery of those Felt classics is nowhere to be found on Mozart's Mini-Mart, at least the record is full of catchy tunes that comment humorously on life in modern Britain. Welcome back Lawrence!

Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty, The Splendour Of Fear, The Strange Idols Pattern And Other Short Stories, Ignite The Seven Cannons, and The Seventeenth Century by Felt are all out on Friday via Cherry Red Records.

Mozart's Mini-Mart from Go-Kart Mozart is also out on Friday via Cherry Red Records.