So what happened? Did fellow Jersey-ite Tony Soprano have a sit-down with The Feelies? Did they listen to Springsteen’s Nebraska one too many times? Maybe they got on The Grateful Dead’s touring bus, and never left.
After The Feelies’ remarkable 1980 debut, Crazy Rhythms, they waited six years to release their follow-up, The Good Earth. Sophomore slump doesn’t really explain it, as they had only been together four years before they recorded Crazy Rhythms.
The length of time isn’t really the issue though. It is as if the over-caffeinated Wire meets Television jingle jangle of Crazy Rhythms never even happened. The Good Earth is by no means a bad record, but it certainly sounds as if it were made by a different band.
And in some ways it was. Drum legend Anton Fier and bassist Keith DeNunzio had departed, and were replaced with three new members. Only the twin-guitar core of Bill Million and Glenn Mercer remained intact. And for that we can be thankful, because it is the guitars that save The Good Earth from the dreaded “REM effect” (Peter Buck produced it).
Right off the bat, with the acoustic strumming of “On The Roof,” The Feelies let you know that it is no longer 1980. There were so many bands doing this type of music in 1986, it was ridiculous. Call it roots music, alt-country, no depression, whatever. Eventually some good stuff emerged from the genre, but really — The Feelies as Depression-era hobos? Give me a break.
The only track that recalls their herky-jerky heyday is “Slipping (Into Something)” and it almost single-handedly saves The Good Earth. Opening with a quietly strumming guitar, and slowly building towards it’s inevitable crescendo, “Slipping (Into Something)” is a remarkable song.
To be fair, if The Good Earth had been released by anyone but The Feelies in 1986, I probably would have nothing but praise for it. There are some great songs here, particularly the country-tinged “Tomorrow Today,” and “The Last Roundup.”
But for me, and the millions (or hundreds) of fans out there, the title of the final song on the original LP version of The Good Earth ironically sums everything up: “Slow Down.”
New Jersey based Bar/None Records has just re-issued The Good Earth in a great package. Not only do you get the original record—exactly as it appeared on vinyl—but there is also a card included giving fans access to previously unreleased bonus tracks.
There are three extra songs included as well, and they are all worthwhile. The band covers “She Said, She Said” (big Beatles fans), and Neil Young’s “Sedan Delivery.” There is also a live version of “Slipping (Into Something)” recorded at a reunion in March 2009.
Despite my initial reservations about The Good Earth, it has grown on me. And Bar/None has done an excellent job with the re-release. Definitely worth checking out, if only to see where these guys went after their astonishing debut.