Friday, 24 November 2017

Felt: the first five albums

Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty
The official Felt story is 10 albums, 10 singles, 10 years. The real Felt story starts in 1979 when Lawrence hastily recorded Index on a £15 Tandy (US viewers - that’s Radio Shack) tape recorder.

The official story sweeps Felt’s DIY punk past under the carpet so we start with Lawrence and Maurice Deebank trying to create a new kind of music that no one had heard before. This album isn’t far off that ambition, although it shares an atmospheric ideal with The Durutti Column. And confirms that Felt were named after Television’s use of “felt” (the past tense of feel) in Venus.

So it doesn’t quite exist on its own, but it still, today, has a unique destitute desolation.

The Splendour Of Fear
“The softest touch, the gentlest word.” God knows why the Cocteau Twins got all the, er, garlands. Another 6-song album, half of which had already been out on singles, but take this as an organised pattern of a unified whole.

The Optimist and the Poet is a solo Lawrence composition, suggesting if Deebank ever left he’d be okay composing 8-minute instrumentals on his own.

The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories
“You know those songs like Crystal Ball, Dismantled King? You know I love them all.” With you on that one, Lawrence. Felt had made many pop songs before - come on, Evergreen Dazed is a banger - but here are 10 in a row. Belle and Sebastian and The Clientele forged their early careers on this one record.

Somewhere in the Spanish foothills of the Pyrenees, whole villages dance to these songs at every festivity. I like to think Maurice Deebank is playing there, but apparently he’s moved back from Spain to live in a Birmingham monastery.

Ignite the Seven Cannons
The year before (1984) Felt demo’d Dismantled King Is Off The Throne and Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow for Blanco Y Negro. They got turned down. Felt record Primitive Painters with Elizabeth Fraser and it becomes the biggest selling indie single of 1985 (according to Lawrence, who never let the truth get in the way of a good story). That single and this album was revenge, then.

Lawrence’s only regret about Felt’s catalogue is that Ignite the Seven Cannons is asymmetrical, 6 songs on one side, 5 on the other. That’s not this album’s biggest problem, though.

Aiming for big sales might have encouraged Lawrence to get the Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie in as producer. It doesn’t really work. Or at least the feeling that these songs, fantastic though they are, are a bit murkier than they otherwise might be.

Let The Snakes Crinkle Their Heads To Death
The first Felt album without Deebank. Lawrence chooses not to write 8-minute Spanish guitar opuses, but lets Martin Duffy’s keyboards take the lead.

This is the first album to come with a guarantee of authenticity: “any similarity to songs already written is purely coincidental”. Maybe Lawrence was worried people would spot that Sapphire Mansions is pretty close to the Marine Girls’ Don’t Come Back (feel free to write in and tell me both songs rip off some old jazz number).

This album is being reissued as The Seventeenth Century. The current title lacks the poetry and mystique we’ve become used to.

Lawrence told Sounds in 1989: “I don’t like my name. It’s too long. I think my life would’ve been different if I’d been called Joe. I really believe that.” I don’t really believe changing this album’s title makes it much different or better.

The first 5 Felt albums are reissued on vinyl and CD by Cherry Red on 23 February 2018.

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