Tuesday, December 26, 2006

The Pictorial Jackson Review, 1988, Felt

The Pictorial Jackson Review

I first heard of Felt, in the spring of 1995, when as I was reading, maybe the Trouser Press Record Guide, I came across a review of a favorite band of mine at the time. The reviewer—and I can’t remember if they were referring to the band’s debut E.P. or the band in general—referred to them as sounding like Unsane covering Felt. I was simple then, and ran to the local record shop and bought an Unsane record (which I absolutely hated, not to mention it had a blood-strewn front grill of a car on the cover), but never could find anything by Felt. In hindsight, the reference was wholly inappropriate but it stuck in my mind long enough until, one day, I finally came across something by Felt, (Poem of the River, 1987), and I liked it enough to get excited, when at Jerry’s Records, I was faced with the prospect of purchasing the album in question—The Pictorial Jackson Review—for four dollars. I let it sit amongst all the other gold, silt and garbage that I found at Jerry’s until we moved back west and I rediscovered it about three years ago. It has been a staple since, so long as the turntable has been in working order; which is not always.

To start, I must confess one over-arching prejudice I have against this album: if your name is neither Jimmy Smith, nor James Taylor (The Prisoners), you ought not make a Hammond B3 organ your weapon of choice. It is not that Martin Duffy is not a very proficient organist, it is just that the instrument is unsubtle and too overpowering for this type of music—so much so that it oftentimes becomes the focal point, which is not what I imagine the band had intended. That being said, this record has a beautifully realized Side 1, that is a quick study in how enjoyable British music used to be before the Nineties Britpop revolution poisoned much of the tiny island’s well. (Side 2-is devoted to two Martin Duffy organ-studies, one of which is over-long and corny in a bad jazz kind of way, reminding me of how David Bowie let Brian Eno run roughshod over Side 2 of Low). The first side however, is comprised of 8 tracks that owe much, much more to Lou Reed, The Velvets, Booker T. Jones, and perhaps Robert Zimmerman, than to the group’s supposed namesake, Thomas Miller, who himself took his nom-de-plume from the French poet, Paul Verlaine.

With all that muscle-flexing behind me, I’d like to start by skipping over the appealing opener and getting right to the second song, Ivory Past, with it’s brief introduction of dueling down-tempo and meandering California-style guitars that abruptly give way to the more forceful and sophisticated verse, colored feverish with Duffy’s swirling organ and vocalist Lawrence Hayward’s studied Lou Reed (Dylanesque?) pungent, nasal monotone (a point I can't help but belabor). Hayward’s delivery though, is a small part of a greater and contiguous whole. Perhaps one of the most comforting aspects of this album is the way in which each song is similar, and has analogous aspects; sounding as if they were conceived, written, recorded, and mixed in a short and intense burst. This is not to be meant as a slight, the songs are configured as part of a greater whole, but they are composed to be different. The distinction lies in the sound, not the structure of each individual composition.

For the most part, each song is constructed on a lean and oftentimes, busy bass line (depending on the mood, obviously); plucked guitar figures; Martin Duffy’s aforementioned feverish organ; Hayward’s interlocking Bob Dylan-Lou Reed vocal delivery, and the kind of beautiful, bare-bones and minimal production (by Joe Foster, “quickly” on eight track) that eschews all the musical ephemera, frills, effects, and studio-gadgetry, that would conspire to kill music in the following decade. It is marked by a certain amount of sixties revivalism that colors much of British Music after 1990, it does not however, slavishly adhere to the template of the Beatles-Stones-Kinks-Who oligarchy of rock royalty influences, in fact, those influences are absent (in so far as any British pop group could distance themselves from the Beatles). The sum total is something to be celebrated, something that, though not perfect or wholly original, is a late-period, moody, rock masterwork; a study in sound and technique that was, in hindsight, like a dying musical ethos that soon would be swept away to the extreme musical fringes where it would be revived a short-time later by bands as widely dispersed as late-era Unrest, Air Miami, Henry's Dress, (and possibly the whole of the Slumberland Records catalogue), the lesser-twee moments of Heavenly, the Field Mice (ditto for Sarah Records) and most notably (and surely not on the musical fringe), Belle and Sebastian.

In the end because of my habit of overstatement, I have not given due credit to the other standout songs—Until the Fools get Wise, How Spook Got her Man, and, (I have to mention it) the Street Hassle-era Lou Reedesque-titled, Don’t Die on my Doorstep.


Labels: , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home

Music Blogs - Blog Top Sites Directory of Music Blogs
Music Blogs
Music Blogs