The Feelies – In Between
The Feelies are a fascinating indie rock case study in riding the ebbs and flows of industry trends. Their first two albums, both stone cold classics, were released six years apart and could easily be mistaken for the work of different bands. When someone announces they love The Feelies, it’s reasonable to ask which ones (the proper response is “both,” but still….)
In Between seems like a conscious effort to evoke the pastoral, nearly acoustic vibe of the band’s 1986 touchstone The Good Earth, from its tranquil, sepia-toned cover art to the field recordings that set the tone for its title track. Despite the 31-year gap the same five-piece line lineup is in place for both albums. However, only the core duo of songwriters/guitarists Glenn Mercer and Bill Million remain from The Feelies’ twitchy, brilliant debut Crazy Rhythms, which sounds a bit like Devo if they’d never discovered synths and had dropped the sci-fi shtick. The subtle percussive accents – now provided by Bill Weckerman and Stan Demeski – are essentially the only holdover from that 1980 keeper.
Here Before, the 2011 album that broke the band’s twenty year silence, had more in common with Time for a Witness – the really-good-but-not magical album from the Feelies’ brief major label era, a time when Jonathan Demme declared them America’s Best Band and cast them in his film Something Wild. It was at this point that Million, sensing a loss of control, flew the coop for Florida, triggering a lengthy hiatus.
It’s tempting to reduce the narrative to a matter of Mercer – who wrote half of In Between himself – versus Million, who shares credit on the other half. After all, Mercer has continued to release albums under his own name and with other band members, so it’s Million’s participation that makes this The Feelies. Things don’t parse out that simply, however. Several of Million’s compositions are the most vivid – some of which (check “Pass the Time”) hint at a raga feel also teased on Here Before – but Mercer delivers highlights of his own, like the churning “Been Replaced.”
The most notable of those highlights is the title track, a hushed version of which opens In Between and returns for a nine-minute epic reprise that echoes “Slipping Into Something,” the Velvets-indebted scorcher that was The Good Earth’s high point. Except this time rather than a slow build they pull out the stops from the get-go, recalling the end-of-album workouts by another revered New Jersey band – Yo La Tengo.
In the final analysis, In Between isn’t The Good Earth’s equal – its melodies aren’t as memorable or effortless. But how often does a sequel match the original? In Between is a welcome return, and anyone who expects more from The Feelies at this point is either delusional or greedy.