Guardian Unlimited: Arts blog - music
December 10, 2007 3:00 PM
People always ask me which of the records I released is the one that should have set the world to rights but didn't. Of course, with everything you put out, you think at least something should happen. However, the one particular record I can honestly say should have been huge is Felt's Forever Breathes the Lonely Word.
Lawrence (just "Lawrence" like Madonna is just "Madonna") was Felt's ringleader. He also happened to be one of the biggest characters on Creation Records; he was the deadpan pop star who failed, and relished the failure. Lawrence equally loved and loathed the cult superstardom he inhabited throughout the 80s.
He was conflicted about his talent and desire for fame. A true British eccentric, he wanted to be renowned in the underground like Andy Warhol, but simultaenously felt he should be writing hits for Cliff Richards. Lawrence wanted Felt to be high art and low art at the same time. He wanted Felt to be in the singles charts and screamed at like a boy band, and was truly mystified as to why it hadn't happened yet. Though I have to say Creation got him in Smash Hits.
Since the moment he began making records - the self-recorded and self-financed 7" Index, a kaleidoscope of sound pitched against his very Tom Verlaine-meets-Bob Dylan rock dialect - Lawrence was a great undiscovered pop superstar. However, word started to get around. First Sounds magazine made Index single of the week, then a fan letter to Mark E Smith brought Felt a three-date support on the Fall tour. Lawrence sent a demo to Postcard Records but was rejected, bizarrely enough, for sounding too like the Velvet Underground. Mike Alway of Cherry Red records went to see them on the strength of the Sounds review and the band settled for his label.
I entered into
the story when Felt were reaching their commercial heights. They had finished
a tour with the Cocteau
Twins and their album Ignite
the Seven Cannons had yielded their biggest indie hit yet, Primitive Painters.
When Felt's Cherry Red contract ended they came to Creation, to which Lawrence had an affinity - he was a fan of the Jesus and Mary Chain.
The first Creation release was a purely instrumental album Let the Snakes Crinkle Their Heads to Death. This was Lawrence's idea and appealed to my sense of perversity. It suited his strangeness, like his infamous (realised) plan to put out 10 albums and 10 singles in 10 years. However, the two Felt recordings I consider classics are Ballad of the Band, a bitter riposte to departed guitarist Maurice Deebank and the nearest a Creation release got to Dylan's Positively Fourth Street ("Where were you when I wanted to work?/ You're still in bed/ You're a total jerk") and the album Forever Breathes the Lonely Word.
With Forever... Lawrence achieved pop perfection, a breathless rush of sensitivity and intelligence which was Creation's equivalent to the Smiths' The Queen is Dead or New Order's Low-Life. It was too understated to be commercial, too art to go pop, too pop to go art - in other words it was a perfect combination of all the music I loved at the time. Every time I listen to it, its perfection always grabs me. I never understood the relative commercial failure of Forever Breathes the Lonely Word. However, I believe Lawrence was right when he said "We're timeless; we follow in a tradition of brilliant bands. In 10 years' time people will reel us off as one of the greats. I mean, we wouldn't want to be in the press every week for a few months and then nothing. One interview a year is enough as long as it's a good one and the photos are right."
Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian took up where Lawrence left off and continued to write the sort of brilliant pop songs that Felt didn't become world renowned for. Lawrence continued in Denim and Go Kart Mozart. He's still Britain's best undiscovered pop superstar.