What does it sound like?:
The first 5 Felt albums are being reissued on Feb 23rd. I’ve been given a download to listen to for review. Read on for more about the formats and pricing.
If you’re not familiar, this phase takes us from 1982 to 1986 (and indeed C86 and the jangly Indie movement that Felt exemplified). It’s hard to describe their uniquely idiosyncratic and often spectral music but it’s the interplay between Maurice Deebank’s extraordinary, chiming guitar (the nearest comparison is to Vini Reilly) and Lawrence answering on guitar and deadpan vocals. Whether you can handle his half-sung, half spoken style with wayward pitching (a Jonathan Richman/Tom Verlaine transplanted to 1980s Birmingham) will probably determine how much you dig Felt, although that said I’d forgotten how much of their output is entirely instrumental too.
He has a way with album titles does Lawrence, so ‘Crumbling the Antiseptic Beauty’ is their debut, and like all the early Felt albums barely passes the 30 min mark but from the Durutti-esque ‘Evergreen Dazed’ onward it’s a excellent, dreamy post-punk, best of all is the hypnotic ‘Birdmen’. I’ve no idea what Lawrence was reaching for but it’s wonderful hearing him try and get there.
Follow up, ‘The Splendour of Fear’, is another short one and 4 of it’s 6 tracks are instrumentals. It’s lovely, but perhaps a little slight in comparison to the debut. Great sleeve though.
‘The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories’ has more songs although there are still 3 instrumentals. John Leckie is on production so this has a bit more pop gloss, and a bona fide Indie Pop classic in the shape of ‘Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow’ (although I rather like the single remix not included here).
The one due the most attention here is ‘Ignite the Seven Cannons’ – originally produced by Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie, and featuring Liz Frazer on ‘Primitive Painters’ and also his last with the great Maurice Deebank. Lawrence was apparently never happy with the reverb-drenched original so this is a remix rather than a remaster although he’s left 4 of Guthrie’s mixes untouched including, wisely, the majestic Primitive Painters. The remixes are very different, much sharper and punchier, with a lot more air around the guitar and drums. I still appreciate Guthrie’s production, there is something charming about that psychedelic mush – so I’ll hang on to my original version and treat this as an alternate mix rather than a definitive version. ‘Ignite…’ is also perhaps the most substantial album among this set – if you only pick one, this is probably the one to go for.
‘Let Their Snakes Crinkle Their Heads to Death’ is now retitled ‘The Seventeenth Century’ – an entirely instrumental album with Martin Duffy (Primal Scream) on organ and keys taking the place of Deebank. It’s a set of lovely, instrumental minatures that, particularly on ‘Jewel Sky’ – predate the charity shop exotica of groups like Stereolab and Pram by a good 4 years although you may feel a little short changed as this falls just short of the 18 minute mark.
Onto the formats. There are double vinyl reissues – £20 each which to be honest is fair enough as you’d easily pay £30 or more for a second hand copy and they are not easily found – I can assure you second hand record shops are not awash with unwanted Felt albums. They didn’t sell in vast numbers and those that have them, probably want to keep them.
As previously discussed on here and on SuperDeluxeEdition there are also CD editions but these are bundled with a 7″ of related material (not available for this review) , badges and reproduction flyers, posters etc. I’ve heard Lawrence has spent considerable time making sure both CD and Vinyl sets are packaged to a very high standard and he’s been personally closely involved in all aspects of the mastering and packaging. However, each release is priced at £25 So this set of reissues seems aimed at squarely at existing fans rather than encouraging new listeners. That’s a shame as I think a reasonably priced box set of CDs (which Cherry Red are very good at compiling) would have sold really well and hooked a load more listeners in but I think Lawrence wants these to be seen as art objects that deserve more reverence and need to be stand alone objects. I suspect Lawrence and Bryan Ferry are on the same page on this one (see the recent Roxy £140 mega deluxe).
You can of course just listen on streaming although looking at the Apple Music content for Felt looks a bit of a jumble – maybe Cherry Red will tidy that up and add these fine sounding remasters to coincide with the reissues….or maybe it’s better the way Lawrence wants it – if you want to hear these odd, beautiful and delightful records then I guess he wants you to hear them his way…and pay.
What does it all *mean*?
Felt were an extraordinary band and the mononymous Lawrence is an extraordinary man and having seen the excellent documentary ‘Lawrence of Belgravia’ and listened to the previous run of Felt reissues (last issued on Cherry Red in 2003) I’m no closer to understanding the man or his music, but I learn to love it more with each listen.
Goes well with…
Might suit people who like…
Jangly Indie Guitar pop of the mid 80s, Durutti Column, Cocteau Twins, maybe bands like Belle & Sebastian, Real Estate etc.