Crazy Rhythms and The Good Earth (Bar-None)
In the 18 years since the last Feelies album (1991’s Time for a Witness), critical analysis of the seminal New Jersey jangle-pop group has read increasingly like a college essay on social Darwinism. With crystallizing hindsight, the revered cult band earned wide acceptance as the missing link between the Velvet Underground, Jonathan Richman (the man who inspired Feelies frontmen Glenn Mercer and Bill Million to start the band), and R.E.M., the Athens, Ga., acolytes who most copped their style in the ’80s. In an odd way, the fact that the entire Feelies catalog was long out of print only seemed to add to their legend—a wrinkle now smoothed out with the long-awaited Bar-None re-issues of the band’s masterful first two LPs, 1980’s Crazy Rhythms and 1986’s The Good Earth.
The former is rightly regarded as an absolute touchstone for indie rock but it’s all the more impressive to hear Crazy Rhythms in the context of its time, rolling its eyes at the fist-pumping punk of the day in favor of a repetitive, almost trance-inducing yet relentlessly toe-tapping rain dance of dueling guitars and driving percussion. Purists as you’d hope them to be, the Feelies made sure this remastered digipak version of their debut stayed true to its original form, with bonus tracks only available via a separate download card. This is when albums were artistic statements, after all.
The Good Earth certainly showcases the evolution that six years outside a studio can allow. While this record doesn’t deliver the unbridled energy of Crazy Rhythms classics like “Fa Ce-La,” it’s probably a superior collection of tunes, with producer/admirer Peter Buck making his presence clear on jangly numbers like “The High Road” and “Let’s Go.” It’s a mellower, more mature record, but no less enjoyable.
With the Feelies in the midst of a very tasteful reunion, and with a couple more reissues hopefully on the horizon, it appears as though one of rock’s great missing links is getting justly rediscovered.