Adrian Denning's Review site
Felt were essentially one man, Lawrence. Just Lawrence, no surname was ever given. He apparently insisted all Felt albums had an even number of tracks and destroyed any out-takes. So, a slight eccentric as all best genius types seem to be. Given that at least one of these records I've reviewed has an odd number of tracks - this may just be part of the legend! His sometimes baffling behaviour ultimately led to Felt never quite being accepted within the mainstream. They recorded for Cherry Red records with Classically trained guitarist Maurice Deebank in tow. They later moved to Creation Records, Maurice left, Martin Duffy ( future Primal Scream keyboard man ) joined. They released ten albums and ten singles in ten years. Only a few of which are featured here, because I simply haven't been able to track them all down as yet. They officially formed during 1980 in Birmingham, England.
Antiseptic Beauty 9 ( 1982 )
Evergreen Dazed / Fortune / Birdmen / Cathedral / I Worship The Sun / Templeroy
The debut Felt
album sounds so delicate and fragile that even a softly caressed blow from loving
lips would cause it to fall down and collapse around your ears. We've the guitar
sound of Maurice Deebank, classically trained and sounding not at all Rock N
Roll. We've the vocals, when they appear, of Lawrence. The lyrics and poetry
of Lawrence. He sounds very unsure of his vocal abilities all through this album,
so much so, the effect is akin to someone hiding behind a big, stout, stone
pillar, in a corner somewhere. Mumbling the words out, words he's not even sure
of - but you want to just, love him. You want to hold him and tell him everything
will be okay. He sounds like a lost puppy. If i'm painting an unattractive picture
of 'Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty' to you, just in that it's not very, well,
Rock N Roll, then I apologise. Actually, I don't. Felt weren't Rock N Roll.
The playing is fragile yet so beautiful. The drums are full of echo and the
entire recording is full of echo, but not production trick echo - just the sound
of a band unsure of themselves playing in a basement somewhere. It's okay, it
works beautifully. 'Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty' is a lovely painting, a
work of art - a movement onto absolutely nothing else and relating to nothing
else - standing on its own in a corner somewhere waiting to be held and cherished.
A five minute long instrumental opens the album. Lawrence stums a guitar, Maurice comes out with astonishing, classy, inventive and such beautifully clean guitar lines. This isn't a song - it's a work of art, it's something of the kind i've never quite heard before, I can't think of any debut album anywhere opening with such an unassuming yet truly beautiful piece of work. 'Fortune' sounds a little rough around the edges compared to the re-recorded version they'd release as a b-side a few years on. That version appears on 'Absolute Classic Masterpieces'. This version has muted guitar and a muted lawrence vocal performance. It sounds like a demo, but the charm is there. The drummer sounds like he's playing on carboard, but never mind that! 'Birdmen' opens with another sequence of beautifully clean, artistic and flowing Maurice Deebank guitar, a million miles away from the one-two-three punk ethos, a world away even from other alternative/indie bands any music writers at the time were feeling to compare Felt with. The drums are simple, encased in echo as are the vocals. The guitar goes on and on, subtle variations on the already wonderful melodic theme it's mapped out. The song revolves around this guitar pattern. But we've lawrence, away in the distance with his poetry, beauty and loneliness. There's nothing else quite like this. 'Cathedral' is an all time Felt moment of fragile, poetic beauty. It's addictive yet there is something here to say that, well, you might think that anybody could do this! Only, they couldn't. They didn't! Anybody could drum like this, yet the simplicity of the drums utterly suits this. The guitar goes here and there, gently and beautifully and Lawrence almost makes himself properly heard - and you want to hear him. He's hiding again, yet the words reveal himself at the same time. Beautiful words, such a beautiful feel and song.
There are no pop songs here and it's not until the fifth of the six songs we get anything bouncy and uptempo. 'Worship The Sun' repeats the sound of the rest of the album, only it sounds more urgent and anxious. 'Templeroy' closes the album with more ghostly, perfect Maurice Deebank guitar, more rolling simple drums and more Lawrence hiding behind himself. The album may well be a little too fragile for some peoples tastes - but there is nothing else like this. Nothing, in a good sense of the word, so precious.
Of Fear 8½( 1984 )
Red Indians / The World Is As Soft As Lace / The Optimist And The Poet / Mexican Bandits / The Stagnant Pool / A Preacher In New England
Ah, six more Felt songs, six more songs to fall in love with and hold close to your bosom. Just the two vocals tunes here and one of those contains a six minutes instrumental coda, but we don't mind too much. Not too much. Well, Felt sound a little more confident second time out, although Lawrence still wasn't confident singing, perhaps? That's my conclusion, perhaps the lack of vocals was purely for artistic reasons? Whichever way it actually was - it hardly matters. The one vocal tune proper is so gorgeous, so special, so romantic. The singing is good too actually, very affecting. So yes, second song 'The World Is As Soft As Lace' makes me cry all the time. Maurice opens the tune with an utterly distinctive and special guitar pattern. The sound hangs in the air and reaches into your tearducts and gets them moving. Lawrence plays the other guitar, the drums and vocals both sound like they were played in somebodies bathroom. "The softest touch, the gentlest word..." sings lawrence, then the female backing vocals come in and this listeners heart bursts completely. The opening lyrical/vocal section over?? The backing vocals not enough? That guitar pattern that opened the song comes swinging back in to link into the next verse & chorus. The guitar, this guitar! Just repeats and varies and goes straight through the song and the sound of the thing. I can't explain or describe the sound. Just, so elegant. Lawrence sets down the poetic lyrics, the romantic pleading, pouring out emotionally lyric. He sings of course, his vocals are fragile, beautiful. Gorgeous, gorgeous, GORGEOUS song. One of the best.
Ah, so what else is new? Well, 'The World Is As Soft As Lace' is surrounded by two instrumentals that display the sound of early Felt extremely well. Mr Deebank very much to the fore with the guitar. I prefer the short, sad sounding 'Red Indians' to the breezy 'Optimist And The Poet' - that's my personal preference. 'Mexican Bandits' also manages to be breezy, happy sounding. 'Preacher In New England' is a beautiful Deebank guitar showcase, very pretty. Which leaves us with 'The Stagnant Pool'. The lyrics are something else. You could criticize them as 6th form poetry on the surface, but? Well, the lyrics are so hilarilously doomy and sad, so very intelligently doomy and striving for an effect that they more than acheive. The guitars at this stage are Deebank/Lawrence interweaving, gorgeously lonely guitars. Two minutes in, the vocals end. Deebank shines throughout the remaining six minutes, really shines. Ably supported by Lawrence, by drummer Gary Ainge and bass player Mick Lloyd. I'll mention them all, because they all deserve to be mentioned. God, imagine seeing Felt play this thing live?? Well, I don't even want to imagine. You'd go away just floating in the air with your head in the clouds yet your heart remembering every loss, then alternately, every joy. Astonishing doesn't even begin to describe the eight minute plus 'Stagnant Pool'. I wish we'd have another vocal tune on the album, I like the Lawrence vocals. Otherwise, everything here is more than fine.
Idols Pattern And Other Short Stories 9 ( 1984 )
Roman Litter / Sempiternal Darkness / Spanish House / Imprint / Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow / Vasco Da Gama / Dismantled King Is Off The Throne / Crystal Ball / Whirlpool Vision Of Shane
to write short two or three minute pop songs. Maurice wanted to showcase his
classically trained guitar skills over long instrumental tracks. Lawrence was
the leader of the group and Maurice ended up writing guitar parts for three
minute pop songs. It gives the group something interesting though, at this stage.
We open with the glittering jangle guitar pop of 'Roman Litter'. Lawrence puts
his lyrical skills to the test, intelligent lyrics, slightly self-depreciating,
always poetry. His has a slightly peculiar voice, it's full of character, full
of stops and starts and often drifts off at the end of sentences when they are
sung. It's all up and down, basically. It's not a conventionally beautiful singing
voice but one thing it is, even with a complete lack of range - is that it's
melodic. 'Sempiternal Darkness' is a Maurice Deebank two minute instrumental
showcase. It's totally beautiful, clear and sparse guitar lines, flowing and
natural, and he's probably working in a post-office now. 'Spanish House' is
a happy guitar pop song! Mentions of debts, tv-sets, staying, going, pestilence,
apathy. These, are lyrics! All married to a jaunty, happy Smiths beating jangly
guitar line! 'Imprint' is another short but totally gorgeous Deebank guitar
instrumental. 'Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow' is one of the greatest pop songs
ever written, and I'll leave it at that.
'Vasco Da Gama' is one very special type of Felt song that marries Deebanks guitar skills fully to Lawrence's pop melodies and eloquent depreciating lyrics. The guitar is just wondrous, the vocals are packed with little twists and melodies and the lyrics are stupendous. It's a wonderful song, and that guitar really is beautiful. It's a trick repeated to even better effect with 'Dismantled King Is Off The Throne' which is just a pure wonder, and I don't even know what I'm saying. This music, this group are so very close to me, it's a hard thing to review or describe. Especially THIS era of the group, although any music Lawrence has ever been involved in is at the very least interesting. 'Crystal Ball' is SO GREAT! And, I'm feeling stupid now. I'm feeling like I'm losing the thread, that I can't review for a fuck, and that I should shut myself away in a dark cupboard somewhere. But, hey! I'm reviewing Felt! There are more popular review sites than mine, which only seems appropriate when I'm reviewing Felt, one of the great lost groups of the era. 'Whirlpool Vision Of Shane' is track number nine, and makes me doubt the claim that Lawrence 'insisted all albums had an even number of tracks' which I included in this pages introduction simply because reliable information about this group is so hard to come by. Besides, it fits the group! 'Whirlpool Vision Of Shane' is another jaunty guitar led pop song with more intelligent, self-depreciating - lack of vocal range - vocals! It's indie, it's alternative guitar pop, it's everything a lot of people find very easy to dismiss, but this is different. If you can, buy it. Simple as that.
Produced by Robin
Guthrie of The Cocteau Twins, no less. It reached number one on the Indie charts!
That's about as close to 'success' commercially as Felt ever came. Contains
eleven tracks, which is perhaps why one song was knocked off from the original
vinyl issue of 'Strange Idol Patterns' when it came to issuing the Felt catalogue
on CD! 9 and 11 makes 20, an even number! 'Strange Idol Patterns' originally
had 10 songs!! Ah, forget it :) This album saw the introduction of Martin Duffy
on keyboards, although at this stage his role was merely to flesh out the sound.
Maurice Deebank still shines in places, not least with opening song 'My Darkest
Light Will Shine' where you get 'pop' Lawrence, albeit pop music with terribly
impressive poetic depreciating lyrics! And, you get Maurice Deebank, with all
those lovely distinctive flowing guitar lines. The combination alone is enough
to send a chill through your spine. 'The Day The Rain Came Down' opens with
another wonderful guitar part - wonderful sounding, this isn't Steve Vai technique
or anything, this isn't a player obviously 'wow' - it's the sound he creates,
and the melody. 'The Day The Rain Came Down' goes along very quickly, a very
happy sounding song. 'Scarlet Servants' slows things down and brings the keyboards
to the fore, a sign of things to come once Deebank had departed. Another classic
arrives with 'I Don't Know Which Way To Turn' - a classic Lawrence lyric and
vocal performance and a good balance between the keyboard and guitar work.
'Primitive Painters' is by far the best 'known' Felt song, featuring as it does Elizabeth Frazer of The Cocteau Twins on additional vocals. Now, previous Felt songs had music written by Lawrence and executed by Maurice. Here we have music written wholly by Maurice, and it gives this song a different structure than the more poppy Felt songs. The vocals alternate between Lawrence and Elizabeth - and very nice they are too. The guitar sounds wonderful all through this song - the vocals sends chills through parts of your body you previously didn't realise existed. Yes, they do! This is marvellous stuff. Following this high-light, the album rather drifts away from what it might have been. 'Textile Ranch' is a group instrumental - very well executed but fairly pointless ultimately. 'Black Ship In The Harbour' is more the sound of classic Felt, and pretty nice because of it. 'Elegance' almost lives upto it's name. More guitar lines, more keyboards, another instrumental though, ultimately - and a five minute long one at that. 'Serpent Shade' is utterly beautiful however - absolutely lovely keyboard lines, part of the reason following the departure of Deebank that the group focused more on Martin Duffy and less on guitar. 'Caspian See' is a jaunty little guitar jangle of a semi-pop song, the closing 'Southern State Tapestry' showcasing the guitar lines of Deebank very well, although not the finest thing they'd ever done. A shame the second half of this album is slightly patchy. People picking up on Felt because of 'Primitive Painters' will have been disappointed perhaps? Anyway, it's still a damn fine album. Besides, on CD it's paired with 'Strange Idol Patterns' - so you get this, and that. A bargain in anyone's book!
Who needs lyrics,
when you've got an album title like that, that's what I say. Felt follow up
a near commercial success ( in their own modest terms ) with an instrumental
album by a line-up missing their most impressive instrumentalist, departed guitarist
Maurice Deebank. Lawrence obviously went all out for GOLD COMMERCIAL POPSTARS
HIT PAGE THREE TABLOID GOSSIP CHART TOPPING CRAP SHITTING WANK! Yes, he did!
Um....... Releasing an album with neglible commercial appeal after being on
the brink of a breakthrough can be seen as being a difficult bugger, or you
can simply sit back and admire the guy. A few of the songs here feature keyboard
player Martin Duffy heavily, the more beautiful songs are in the old Felt style,
and the lack of the tone and magic of Maurice Deebank is overcome, because the
songs are fragile, the songs are delicate and just so special, that words are
difficult to come by when thinking about describing them. Third song 'The Seventeenth
Century' is just SO special, with lilting, fragile and quiet guitar, but lots
of melody. The air sounds ancient around the song. 'The Palace' is so sweet
and beautiful, and I find it hard to believe that it can even exist. It doesn't
scream, it doesn't shout. The guitar is a figure and pattern as simple as can
be, so simple that even my clumsy fingers could learn to play. But then, this
organ sound comes in. Another simple melody, but it sounds like you're dreaming
of an everlasting sadness with the girl you love the most in the entire world
- so you don't mind that sadness. The guitar weeps, and simply weeps - honestly
'Indian Scriptures' is led by Martin Duffy with his organ sound and simply gorgeous. Did I mention the fact that this album is less than twenty five minutes long? I have now. It's perfect length, absolutely beautiful from beginning to end and poetry from beginning to end.... without a single word having ever been uttered. The couple of more cheesy organ led songs that appear provide variety, but stop this being perfect. The lack of words and the lack of complexity is both a huge bonus and a source of complaint - because this isn't a complete Felt. Add Maurice, add a vocal tune or two - and we're talking a '10'. As it is, the one minute twenty six second long 'The Nazca Plain' is more than enough for me, and then it slips into a jaunty dinner party cheap restaurant elevator music song - just so very funny and so very Felt.
A curious artefact,
this. Long serving Felt drummer Gary Ainge and keyboard man Martin Duffy get
to perform the whole album in it's entirety, Lawrence did nothing at all bar
provide the song titles. So, what do we get? Do we get anything that sounds
remotely like Felt? In a word, no. This is an instrumental album featuring a
load of songs that are all Coctail Jazz. Absolutely no guitar on this album,
no vocals as I already stated, and bar providing the song titles, no Lawrence.
As, I've already stated! So, let's 'state' something else whilst we at this
damn thing? 'Train Above The City' is all vibes and electronic Piano replicating
a real, proper jazz quartet. It sounds so incredibly cheesy, even if Mr Martin
Duffy does all sorts of impressive things with his Piano. 'On Weegee's Sidewalk'
opens all sad and mournful, but still the little fills come in, the little bit
of showing off. But, since when were Felt ever about 'showing off'? Instrumentally,
I mean? Well, old guitarist Maurice Deebank could be said to have showed off,
I suppose, but it didn't really come across that way, so naturally integrated
into the songs of Lawrence as his guitar parts were. On the other-hand, on this
record, Lawrence has no songs. It's an entirely self-indulgent project that
Lawrence saw as 'showing another side' of the group. It wasn't 'meant' to be
about individual songs, or albums - but rather this ten albums and ten singles
in ten years project of his, which he entitled Felt.
And, to be honest, even though nearly all the remaining tracks here have something instrumentally to recommend about them within this particular Jazz style, I can't bear to listen to yet more electronic Piano Jazz with a huge helping of 'cheese' sat around it all. This is a horrible album, typical of the perversity of the man called Lawrence, typical of Felt in a way, although obviously, not at all a typical Felt album. Even by the furthest stretch of the imagination. Yeah, it's crap. Well, no, it's not. It's played well, and 'Book Of Swords' is actually quite beautiful.
Apart from the
rarely heard or seen 'Me And A Monkey On The Moon', this was the last Felt album
before Lawrence re-invented himself as 'Denim'. The opening track here is more
Jazz Piano instrumental aka 'Train Above The City, beautifully done, if hideously
overlong. The second song, 'The Darkest Ending' ( on the CD, at least ) is a
little better, incorporating some spooky deep notes into a sparse Jazz influenced
atmosphere. But, still no Felt! Luckily, salvation was at hand. We do get an
entire side of eight short but nearly always completely wonderful proper Felt
songs to enjoy. Some of Lawrence's best lyrics are here, not least on closing
'Don't Die On My Doorstep' but also on the opening 'Apple Boutique'. The keyboards
go everywhere, the guitar is simple but melodic jangle, and the vocals are rich
in 'up and down' melody. 'Ivory Past' opens with a guitar figure that sounds
like the sound of summer - a bass part comes in, Lawrence opens his mouth and
poetry comes out. It's such a happy song, and at just over two minutes in length,
harking back to The Sixties in terms of pop song structure. 'Until The Fools
Get Wise' is slightly less happy and bouncy than the opening two pop songs,
but the lyrics are just as well constructed and Lawrence sings as well as he
'Bitter End' has a well put together, if incredibly simple guitar part, another guitar going all Sixties jangle, and then an organ comes in. So, this album serves another purpose in the grand Felt scheme? Yeah, the simple pop song part of the ten year plan! What other decade are you going to base the structure of pop songs upon, other than The Sixties? The lyrics and vocals are totally Felt however, and place this groups character all over the whole enterprise. 'How Spook Got Her Man' is more simple but enjoyable melodies and a vocal melody sounding both like Felt and Bob Dylan at the same time. 'Christopher Street' is a perfect mix of guitar and keyboards, a fast song with quickly sung lyrics. Another happy, summery sounding song, incidentally. 'Under A Pale Light' shockingly for this side of 'Pictorial Jackson Review' tops four minutes! The vocals are very much to the fore here, focusing your attention on the lyrical content, which is as poetic as ever, and very 'Lawrence'. As is the lyrical content of the closing 'Don't Die On My Doorstep' - one of the finest, happiest sounding songs Felt ever wrote, with one of the most depreciating set of lyrics Lawrence ever wrote into the bargain. I really dig the organ sounds here - the little silly cheesy, quickly played organ parts. Apart from that, Lawrence and some guitar, there is nothing else. But, the tune is superb, hugely enjoyable in this listeners opinion and an absolute classic masterpiece of a simple, but hugely enjoyable pop song! Sigh.
Even with this album being ridiculously daft in its structure - two instrumentals occupying one side, eight pop songs on the other - that 'other' side, the simple pop song side, is perhaps the best 'side' Felt ever released. Gone were the startling guitar parts. Gone was any semblance of art or ambition. This was just solid, impeccably crafted pop with absolutely riveting poetic and funny lyrics to match.
A modestly titled
little gem of a compilation, this. If we are talking Eighties alternative indie
guitar bands such as The Cocteau Twins or The Smiths, or whoever you regard
as an all time great of the genre, then listen up! Felt were a genuinely fantastic
band, and I don't care if that's a very subjective thing to say. I don't care
if you've never heard a single Felt song in your life, or not. I don't care
if your attitude is one particular kind of attitude that really irritates me.
Basically it's this. Quotation marks included for a purpose. "If I've never
heard of them, they can't be very good". You may have heard a similar phrase
spoken or written before, perhaps? Does the good and the great always rise to
the top? Well, if not the top, then at least to some kind of prominent position
within their particular field of vision, so to speak? Felt answer the question,
no they don't. Was it down to Lawrence being an awkward bugger, releasing instrumental
albums for example right after albums that looked like achieving some sort of
breakthrough for the group? Was it down to the lack of 'dumbness' in the music
and lyrics? Was it that Felt simply don't really ROCK? Well, that last question
is something of a moot point. Good guitar music doesn't always have to ROCK.
Capital letters deliberate.
I've already covered many of the opening songs here of course. This compilation covers the years 1985 to 1979, actually that's one year before the group even existed, but I persist. 'Index' is the song in question from 1979, an incredibly badly recorded lo-fi guitar instrumental track played by Lawrence that sounds like the brainchild of a deaf man who has just this minute learned how to play guitar. That doesn't sound too positive does it, for a compilation I've just given a perfect ten? Well, of course the other songs, even the two classically tinged eight minute long guitar instrumentals, more than make up for it. Those two instrumentals are exquisite, by the way. Well, 'The Stagnant Pool' isn't entirely an instrumental, I lied. It includes vocals for a couple of minutes before Maurice Deebank does one of his flowing, enchanting guitar things for the rest of the song. Early single 'Penelope Tree' is bouncier than the bounciest thing you can imagine, even if the lyrics do mention 'disease', 'heartache' and the like. The chorus is gorgeous, and that's official. Oh, before I sign off. 'The World Is As Soft As Lace' is one of the most ravishing, intelligent and romantic guitar ballads ever written. The lyrics and harmonies are little gems begging to be discovered by future generations. That may be overstating things slightly. I may be disappearing rapidly into the depths of my own pleasure and nostalgia. But then, nostalgia? I still listen to Felt regularly, this particular compilation more than anything else they put out.
This second volume
of 'Absolute Classic Masterpieces' collects together material Felt recorded
for the creation label between 1986 and 1988. So, three years? Yeah, but during
that time they recorded four singles and five albums, that's a work-rate! Maurice
Deebank had departed, thus Felt lost the most distinctive aspect of their sound.
To compensate, Martin Duffy was pushed forward, the songwriting was closely
focused upon and everything ultimately turned out ok, even if the sound of the
material was no longer as striking as before. The first ten songs here comprise
single A Sides and B Sides. 'Ballad Of The Band' contains lyrics directly related
to events in Felt land mentioning song titles and the lyric "oh, and I feel
like giving in...." Lucky for us, he didn't hey? 'I Didn't Mean To Hurt You'
is a gorgeous ballad, strummed guitars, beautiful keyboard parts and a beautifully
poetic set of lyrics. Martin Duffy goes solo for 'Magellan', an astounding two
minute Piano instrumental that sounds like it's right in the room with you.
The pop side of Felt has been covered by 'I Will Die With My Head In Flames'
and it's flip, 'Sandmans On The Rise'. 'The Final Resting Of The Ark' is very
quiet and restrained, but contains a haunting vocal quality. The likes of 'Autumn'
and 'There's No Such Thing As Victory' are similarly quiet and restrained, much
focus on the lyrical content. 'Be Still' is a cover of a Dennis Wilson Beach
Boys song and as beautiful as it ever was. 'Space Blues' is strikingly different
from anything else here and hinted at a Felt future in a different guise that
eventually became a group called Denim. 'Space Blues' is fantastic by the way.
The five albums Felt recorded through the years 86, 87 and 88 comprised three 'regular' studio albums and two albums of instrumentals. The first four songs on the second CD of this package ( 'Song For William S Harvey' onwards ) are from the first instrumental album. Full band performances but with emphasis on the keyboard work of Martin Duffy. A more regular Felt arrives with the jaunty 'Grey Streets', the keyboard playing melodies and lines all over the place, guitar less important although still audible and filling out the overall sound. The first great stupendous gem of a song on the second CD arrives with the beautifully poetic and heartbreaking 'A Wave Crashed On Rocks'. Lovely vocals, delicate instrumentation - a work of care, dedication and art. 'She Lives By The Castle' is another highlight, a genuine absolute classic masterpiece, if you will! A lovely guitar part appears after two and half minutes and the lyrics are mysterious story telling fantasy romance. 'Stained Glass Windows In The Sky' is a wonderfully simple slice of Felt pop lasting two minutes, 'Don't Die On My Doorstep' - a highlight of the groups 'Pictorial Jackson Review' set sounding as happy as it ever did, grin provoking! And, I guess it's a matter of personal taste wether you prefer Maurice Deebank or Martin Duffy if you prefer this second compilation to the first, or not. I prefer the first, but there are a bunch of damn fine songs on this one, too. The songs deserve to be heard.
|Denim : Back In
Back in Denim / Fish and Chips / Bubblehead / Middle of the Road / The Osmonds / I Saw the Glitter on Your Face / American Rock / Livin' on the Streets / Here Is My Song for Europe / I'm Against the Eighties
Felt become Denim!
Lawrence had a load of 'Back In Denim' badges made up to give to 'the
kids' in the event of selling lots of records and becoming famous. He's
probably still got a drawer fill of them now, sadly. But, but, BUT! 'Back
In Denim' is a triumph from beginning to end. The lack of sales somewhat
sapped the enthusiasm of Lawrence, who although went on to produce two
further 'Denim' albums, neither came anywhere close to matching the glory
of this record. It's a concept album - a tribute to the early Seventies,
if you will. A celebration of cheese, of Glam. It works as a touching
document, a personal tribute from Lawrence matched to great tunes with
added hand-claps for good measure. "Denim put the soul in your Rock n
Roll - here I am back again, with a bang!" - the title song kicks things
off, all swirling tinkling keyboards, handclaps and a stomping glam rhythm.
It's hugely entertaining, nothing serious and a funny kind of statement
of intent, but it makes me laugh and grin. 'Fish And Chips' continues
with a Glam rhythm and adds typically Lawrence lyrics over the top, albeit
happy Lawrence lyrics rather than the soul searching poetry that was a
feature of Felt lyrics. "I wanna go there!" go the harmonies, the handclaps
come in, Lawrence continues on, and this reviewer starts to grin wider
than a bridge. 'Bubblehead' takes things mid-tempo and is actually beautiful.
Glam as beauty? It can happen! Well, the only other person who could ever
make it happen was Marc Bolan with something like 'Cosmic Dancer'. Not
that 'Bubblehead' is anything like 'Cosmic Dancer' - but you do get the
feeling had Lawrence been born in 1950 he'd have been a huge star come
1972! 'Middle Of The Road' is perfect pop to go, a wonderful performance
and set of melodies. The lyrics are stupendous, but then, that's only
to be expected.
I hadn't the faintest
idea Lawrence had a new album project out, it hadn't been written about or promoted,
anything of the sort. I happened across it one day, the CD helpfully having
a sticker on the front saying 'Lawrence of Felt / Denim presents his new group
Go-Kart Mozart'. I was excited, even though the track-listing in itself told
me this was likely to be Denim, part four - rather than any kind of return to
the sound of Felt. Actually listening to the album when I got it home, I was
totally horrified, and bar one or two songs, have remained so to this day. There
is something else to consider before I describe some of the music itself. Creation
Records ( one time home of Felt ) wanted to re-sign Lawrence on the condition
his new music wouldn't be anything like Denim's recent work. Creation folded
in the event, and this album appears on West Midland Records, Lawrence's own
label imprint. And, does the music sound like 'Denim On Ice' or 'Novelty Rock',
those two 'mixed' Denim album projects following the masterful 'Back In Denim'?
In places it does, but none of the half dozen Denim type songs are particularly
good. Most of the rest of this short, thirty minute project is taken up with
Lawrence dabbling in Techno of all things, and doing it very, very badly. It
sounds tossed off, basic, very amateurish. 'Depleted Soul' is an example, all
very standard Techno stuff, sounds like how i'd imagine an Underworld demo to
sound, quite frankly. Yes, that bad. 'City Synthesis' is a bizarre 'Novelty-Techno'
piece consisting of weird, 'humorous' electronic noises and nothing else. These
are just two examples. There is more where this comes from, elsewhere on this
record. 'Drinkin Um Bongo', 'Wendy James', 'Hip Op' all feature lyrics that
sound like they were written by a ten year old, quite frankly. 'Hip Op' goes
like this. "The Queen-Mum she is top, the Queen-Mum she is great...." and so
on. Actually reading that back to myself on this page, that sounds really funny!
But, combined with the music it's sad and tragic, rather than funny, knowing
the majesty of the material Lawrence was producing all through the Eighties.
So, is Lawrence just taking the piss? Quite possibly, and the jokes on us, the joke is on me for buying this piece of toss in the first place. A terrible album, but it does have two saving graces in particular, which actually only go to re-inforce how bad the rest of it is, but yes, two saving graces all the same. 'We're Selfish, Lazy And Greedy' is glorious. This is a good Denim song, no more, no less - but it's very melodic, clever lyrically, almost touching with its depiction of ordinary folk, basically. A good pop-song, it even got played by Chris Moyles a couple of times on his Radio One daytime slot. The other reason to even begin considering adding this album to your Lawrence collection is the quite frankly fantastic 'She Tore It Up And Walked Away', where suddenly Felt are miraculously re-born. A touching, sub-two minute ballad, the kind of thing that might have appeared on Felt's 86-88 era singles as a b-side. Poetic, genuine. Makes the rest of this album all the more frustrating! Lawrence could reform Felt and make a great album tomorrow. I really do get that impression. As it is, he made 'Instant Wigwam and Igloo Mixture' instead.
Go Kart Mozart : Tearing Up The Album Charts 7½ ( 2005 )
Glorious Chorus / Summer Is Here / Electric Rock & ROll / Listening To Marmalade / At The DDU / On A Building Site / Fuzzy Duck / Transgressions / Delta Echo Echo Beta Alpha Neon Kettle / Donna & The Dopefiends / England And Wales / City Centre
What a huge sigh of relief, what a huge improvement. For this latest project of his, a second Go Kart Mozart album, if that's really what any of us wanted, Lawrence has produced a mix of Felt and Denim. And indeed, Go Kart Mozart. So, silliness still abounds, but there are far more moments of beauty present on this album than any Lawrence album since 'Back In Denim'. For example, check out the opening two tracks. 'Glorious Chorus' has a wistful, lonely and lovely vocal and melody. The song is just Lawrence and various snatches of soft programmed beats that enhance Lawrence. In a similar vein is 'Summer Is Here'. 'Summer Is Here' is the poppier of the two tracks, here we get the golden chorus! Neither track, quality wise, would be out of place on one of the latter Felt albums, and that's saying quite something. So, that's the felt side covered then? Lots of Denim, some of the song titles give it away. 'Listening To Marmalade' anyone? It's actually another top tune, infinitely better than nearly anything from that half-formed, not even songs for your tots... that was 'Wigwam And Igloo Mixture'. Opening with a ROCK guitar line is 'At The DDU' and its promising. The plastic bouncy fake programmed beats enter the fray, those happy novelty seventies plastic beats Lawrence seems so fond of these days. Then, this silly 70s Keyboard sound comes in and a huge massive pop hook. Much like this album as a whole, Lawrence never quite escapes his worst recent excesses, but always remembers to save himself half-way through. Ultimately, we forgive him. I end up loving the silly piece that is 'At The DDU'.
How do you describe 'On A Building Site' when it comes across as Lawrence seemingly advertising himself to do a new theme tune for 'Bob The Builder', or some other similar childrens programme that may involve cartoons and building? So utterly ludicrous, like bringing back Chas n Dave, or something. Then we get the deeply strange 'Fuzzy Duck' and you really do start to wonder what is going on in that brain of his. I really like 'Fuzzy Duck' though, I do. No mentions of the Queen Mum or drinking 'Um-Bongo' this time out. Instead, a really strange sounding backing track and very good, funny lyrics delivered in something approaching, but not quite, deadpan. A couple or three tracks on this album are recent Lawrence by numbers, but only a couple or three. Even the shiny, bouncy and plastic likes of 'Donna & Dopefiends' has a shining melody running all the way through it you see, like a stick of the finest blackpool rock. By the time the closing 'City Centre' arrives, which is in line, quality wise, with the better half of the previous Go Kart Mozart album, kind of average Lawrence but still very very silly, you draw a breath of relief. 'Tearing Up The Album Charts' has a bunch of ingredients that thrown together, shouldn't work at all. That this time around they actually do work isn't something I can quite explain. Just that Lawrence has walked the right side of the line marked 'too daft' this time around to approach the area marked 'sublime'. Just approach it, mind you. He's still some way off his best yet, but this is getting there. Moving in the right direction, at last. Yes!
Published with Adrian's kind permission. Thanks again.