Thursday, September 13, 2018

Ivory Past: A Quick Review Of The Next 5 Felt Reissues From Cherry Red Records

Following on from their reissues of the first 5 albums from Felt earlier this year, the fine folks at Cherry Red Records are set to offer up reissues of the next 5 (and final to date) albums from the band. Collected here in a box-set are Forever Breathes The Lonely Word (1986), Poem Of The River (1987), The Pictorial Jackson Review (1988), Train Above The City (1988), and Me And A Monkey On The Moon (1989), along with scattered singles. The releases cover both the peaks of this band's output, and the odd detours they were to take later in their career.

Let's dive in, shall we?

Forever Breathes The Lonely Word (1986)

When people talk about Felt, the sound of this record is what they're really talking about. "Rain Of Crystal Spires" and "Grey Streets" positively chime, even as Martin Duffy's organ takes a more prominent role in conveying the melodic aspirations of this band. If a few numbers here sound a bit like contemporaries Lloyd Cole and The Commotions ("Gather Up Your Wings And Fly", "Down But Not Yet Out"), it's likely that Lawrence was, like Cole, revealing a huge debt owed to Tom Verlaine, and a smaller one due to Bob Dylan. Still, there's no mistaking that this is British indie, and for the morbid wit displayed here ("All The People I Like Are Those That Are Dead"), a listener would be right in holding this band's work in 1986 right up there with that of The Smiths.

Poem Of The River (1987)

Produced by the legendary Mayo Thompson (The Red Krayola), Poem Of The River (1987) sees the band's sound expanded a bit, enough to take in the languid "She Lives By The Castle" as well as the brief "Stained Glass Windows In The Sky", an easy, organ-fueled swirl. Perhaps nothing here is as adventurous as "Riding On The Equator", which, at nearly 9 minutes, sees Felt venture into new territory even as familiar guitar-figures (played by front-man Lawrence himself) trace patterns that one could almost say prefigured the work of shoegaze bands not so long after this.

The Pictorial Jackson Review (1988)

Released here in slightly-altered running order, 1988's The Pictorial Jackson Review features some lovely, spry numbers (the bright "Apple Boutique", the Lou Reed-aping "Ivory Past"), even as a few other cuts here ("Tuesday's Secrets", "Christopher Street") seem to prefigure the sort of jangle-rock acts that would, in the early Nineties, name-check Felt as a big influence. A strong contender for being their most consistent long-player, The Pictorial Jackson Review (1988) sees Lawrence at the height of his powers, his best compositions here ("Jewels Are Set In Crowns", "Don't Die On My Doorstep") offering proof of the man's talents and examples of his knack for both a hook and an effect.

Train Above The City (1988)

Train Above The City (1988) is a mess. It's a record that I really don't feel bad about not loving. More a curiosity than an essential release, the brief offering sees Martin Duffy and Gary Ainge deliver an album's worth (barely) of near-jazzy instrumentals. And, as if it needed to be said, without Lawrence, selections like "On Weegee's Sidewalks" and "Run Chico Run" are nothing more than tracks that sort of make you scratch your head. Bully to Lawrence for letting the band put this out under the Felt name as the move seems more astute and clever now than it did then, when it seemed like an act of career suicide.

Me And A Monkey On The Moon (1989)

The final Felt album, Me And A Monkey On The Moon (1989) offers up both familiar moments and quick flashes of a new style in the band's arsenal. Produced by Adrian Borland (The Sound), the record finds Lawrence adding more players than in the past, even going so far as to include B.J. Cole on pedal guitar. Some of what's here works spectacularly ("Free"), but parts of this ("New Day Dawning", "Down An August Path") seem like leftovers from a Dire Straits record. There was no way that Lawrence could have produced such great music for so long, and after nearly a decade, one can't be surprised that quality finally flagged a bit here. And, for all that snark on my part, Me And A Monkey On The Moon does contain "Mobile Shack", a Sixties-tinged ramble, and the simply-effective "Get Out Of My Mirror", a neat approximation of "Foggy Notion"-era Lou and the Velvets.

Spread throughout this batch of reissues from Cherry Red, are a few of the absolutely essential singles from Felt's back-catalog, notably "I Will Die With My Head In Flames", the sublime and affecting "The Final Resting Of The Ark", and "Primitive Painters", an utterly-transcendent collaboration with members of the Cocteau Twins. Felt were, in some ways, a singles band, and that case can be made just by listening to these 10 or so singles from this set. And yet, the albums here show a real progression of Lawrence and his assorted band-mates. Frankly, there remains more variety on these final 5 Felt albums than I remembered from the era, and only a churlish old grump would deny that the band took some spectacular chances, and succeeded far more times than people remember. The building blocks of the output of every indie band you've listened to in the last 20 years are here, really, and there's no other way to explain just how essential this handful of records is.

You can order Forever Breathes The Lonely Word (1986), Poem Of The River (1987), The Pictorial Jackson Review (1988), Train Above The City (1988), and Me And A Monkey On The Moon (1989), from Cherry Red Records now.