Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Feelies

  • Crazy Rhythms [Stiff, 1980] A-
  • The Good Earth [Coyote, 1986] A-
  • No One Knows [Coyote EP, 1986] B
  • Only Life [A&M, 1988] B+
  • Time for a Witness [A&M, 1991] A

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Crazy Rhythms [Stiff, 1980]
They're suburban lads from New Jersey every bit as normal and unspoiled as, oh, Brian Wilson, only this ain't 1961: why shouldn't they know about Coltrane and "Sister Ray"? Beneficiaries of local privilege note that the magnitude of their rave-ups--and in essence all they do is rave-up--doesn't come fully alive on record, but their freshness and purity of conception does. Exciting in a disturbingly abstract way, or maybe disturbing in an excitingly abstract way, and either way is just the way these so-straight-they're-cool weirdos want it. A-

The Good Earth [Coyote, 1986]
Coproducer Peter Buck is occasioning harrumphs about how suddenly they sound like R.E.M., but if anything R.E.M. sounds like them with excess baggage: aching lyricism, gorgeous hooks, mumbled poetry--in a word, corn. The Feelies, in turn, sound a lot like a classic band called the Velvet Underground. And like themselves, unmistakably, even though six years and Peter Buck have rounded off their gawky corners and filled out their sound. A-

No One Knows [Coyote EP, 1986]
Adds the slightly arcane Beatles song "She Said She Said" to the slightly arcane Neil Young song "Sedan Delivery" before it resorts to two Good Earth cuts that seem doubly otiose after Jonathan Demme has proven them capable of an all-cover EP. Or LP. B

Only Life [A&M, 1988]
With rock and roll--music--as mystico-cerebral as the Feelies', analysis takes you only so far. In the end, you get it or you don't. Me, I find album three their most accomplished and least effective, and suspect that both its accomplishment and its (relative) ineffectiveness reflect the same crisis of growth. After all, this is rock and roll, not music; rock and roll has always had trouble with the mature perspective signalled by a couplet like "Got a ways to go/So much to know." Just because the perpetual nervousness of Crazy Rhythms and the pastoral lyricism of The Good Earth are callower, they fit the musical concept better. Either that or the concept is fading for me. Or for them. B+

Time for a Witness [A&M, 1991]
Though it had precedents in such influences as Brian Eno, Steve Reich, and The Velvet Underground, we know why the rippling quietude of 1986's electro-pastoral The Good Earth got Peter Buck accused of taking the city out of the boys. So when Bill Million describes this de facto will and testament as "taking several giant steps backwards," say amen. The sere minimalism of Crazy Rhythms was always misleading. Only here, on a harder, louder, riffier, humanisticker studio expansion of their original concept, do they capture the exhilaration of the legendary shows they used to mount on national holidays--the one on Flag Day came complete with star-spangled banner. Once again they imbue oddball suburban nerdiness with spare downtown cool. Once again they rock out while shedding their grace on thee. A

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