Indie Rock Ground Zero
Blake Maddux | Arlington, MA United States | 10/07/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Crazy Rhythms, while not one of the biggest-selling records of all time, is one of the more obvious places to discover the origins of what would come to be called "indie" or "alternative" rock in the 1980s. Granted, The Feelies had their influences, but they were inspired by these bands to innovate rather than imitate. Granted, the vocals may at times sound about as close to Lou Reed as is humanly possible, and the influence of this record can be heard in everything from early R.E.M. to Clap Your Hands Say Yeah. Still, The Feelies created an inimitable and completely unique sound with their 1980 debut.
Like any band formed in suburban New Jersey, The Feelies paid their dues in The Big Apple. Within a few years, the Village Voice had dubbed them "the best underground band in New York". In a town that was feeling its way through the aftermath of disco and punk, The Feelies carved a real niche for themselves. Like The Ramones, The Feelies' songs had a palpable sense of urgency to them, but they were rarely blink-and-you'll miss 'em 2-minute blasts ("Fa Ce-La" being the exception that proves the rule). Like Talking Heads, the rhythms - vocally and musically - were tense and nervous, but with a menacing quality that may have been somewhat muted in the Heads' music by their art school/world music aspirations. And while Gang of Four's album Entertainment! made the word "angular" a permanent addition to the rock criticism lexicon, Crazy Rhythms necessitated the use of the word "caffeinated". (I must look like a robot going haywire as I sit outside this coffee shop tapping along with the songs.)
Lyrically, the songs on Crazy Rhythms do not seem to be about anything. They are there mainly to give the listener something to sing along with and occasionally chuckle at (eg, "he never helps out in the yard", "you remind me of a TV show/that's alright, I watch it anyway"). The title of the opening track - "The Boy With The Perpetual Nervousness" - is as amusingly unironic as the title of the CD, as is the repetition of "crazy feelies" in the title track. Still, it is the instrumental sound that makes this record such a fascinating musical document. The end of the first track makes it sound like the band has to tire itself out just to slow itself down. On the other hand, "Forces At Work" is on for a minute-and-a half before you realize that it has even started. ("Moscow Nights" takes a good 30 seconds to get moving, too.) And on yet another hand, "Fa Ca-La" starts out with a few seconds of bouncy acoustic strumming, but then slams on the gas and veers outta control for the remaining 2 minutes.
The guitars on this record are often thin and high-pitched, standing in stark contrast to the fat, low-end power chords of punk. Pay particular attention to the solo at the end of "Loveless Love". It has a slithery, "look what I can do" attitude about it that sums up the band's sound perfectly. The incessant downward strumming is another obvious indication of The Velvet's influence, while the jangley minor chords and gentle arpeggios are the blueprint for R.E.M.'s early records. (Peter Buck, who cited the band as a major influence, would return the favor by producing The Feelies' 1986 record The Good Earth.) When guitarists Glenn Mercer and Bill Million duke it out, the results are nothing short of incendiary.
But like I said, this CD isn't called Crazy Rhythms for no good reason. Hence, it is no huge surprise that percussion is a particularly effective weapon for the band. At times it marches the song along confidently, other times it sprinkles bells and woodblocks into the mix. Listen to "Raised Eyebrows", on which the percussion runs serve as hooks that are usually reserved for guitar riffs, and will make an air drummer of even the most self-respecting of us. (Note on the CD's sleeve that each member is credited with percussion on one song or another.) And for most bands, cover songs are filler. On this record, "Everybody's Got Something To Hide Except For Me and My Monkey" is given such thorough Feelies treatment that it is unrecognizable until the lyrics kick in. It is sung in an irreverent tone, as if to say that they owe nothing to Sir Paul for the song, and perhaps they are right. "Paint It Black", which was recorded years later and added to later pressings of the record, gets a nice fresh coat applied to it, too.
Crazy Rhythms is original, innovative, influential, inimitable, quirky, challenging, and compelling. (Heck, the album cover itself is worth 1,000 words.) I may sometimes disagree with Chicago Sun-Times critic Jim DeRogatis, but I owe him a huge debt of gratitude. It was from his mention of The Feelies in a review of The Strokes that I first heard of the band. Curious, I shopped all over greater Boston in futile pursuit of this CD. After signing up for ebay - where it rarely went for under $30 - for the first time, and searching all over the web, I finally found a used copy for about $10.
This has proven to be quite a bargain. Two years after buying the CD, I am as fascinated by it now as I have ever been. (What I wouldn't give to have seen The Feelies in New York in 1979. That would have been a show to tell the grandkids about.) I was still way behind on the indie rock of the 80s and 90s when I first heard Crazy Rhythms, but even then it seemed to me that I was hearing the source of much of it. Its influence is also pretty obvious in the new millennium in The Strokes, The Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Interpol. Like The Velvet Underground & Nico, Crazy Rhythms seems to be one of those CDs that inspired all of its too few listeners to start a band. And while The Velvet Underground proved that rock stars did not have to be pop stars, the Feelies proved that they didn't have to be cool guys either. A generation of both fans and artists should be eternally grateful.
One final note: It is easy to discover The Feelies and feel kinda proud of yourself, as if you are in on a secret that very few others know about. Well, the fact is that you are in on such a secret, and turning others on to it can be a pretty rewarding experience. For that reason, it is also tempting to overrate this CD, and give it 5 stars as a way of saying, "this is a really good CD that only I and a few other people know about". Yes, it is easy to do that. But it is a 5-star record all the same, IMHO, and one of my personal favorites in the truest sense of the term."
Yes again but please quit overstating the significance of th
tyron crawleee | 06/03/2006
(5 out of 5 stars)
"i purchased this lp in early 80 after enjoying two previous singles; fa ce la/boy with..
i met bill million on two occasions-an amiable person who distanced himself from the pretension of downtown/no wave scene. This record is wonderfully listenable-is it genius, brilliant?- I don't know if one can quantify with such hyperbole-(i dont apply genius to art), however, in retrospect this lp is just as embraceable as say; gang of four's "entertainment" or slit's "cut"."
Leonardo Lopez | Chicago, IL | 08/02/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It is criminal that this album is no longer in print. I own hunderds upon hundreds of albums, and this one is in the top 5. If it were a recording of "Moscow Nights" alone, it would probably rank in the top 20. If you are a fan of Television and Talking Heads (which I hope you are), you should do everything you can to acquire this album ASAP."