Imagine that one of your best friends left a party at your house one night, and you then didn’t see him again for 19 years. And when he walked back in the door, he was just like you remembered him. Listening to Here Before is like that. Explaining this requires you to put The Feelies into a spaceship and have them travel at the speed of light for almost two decades. When they return they’ve hardly changed, but your kids have graduated from college.
From the opening notes of “Nobody Knows” to the closing hum of “So Far,” Glenn Mercer, Bill Million, Dave Weckerman, Brenda Sauter, and Stan Demeski churn out 13 new songs that would not be the least bit out of place on any of their albums from The Good Earth (1986) onward. Nor are they of diminished quality.
Mercer’s lyrical focus is still the complicated business of dealing with other people and explaining it to them and yourself, and why it’s either getting better (“Morning Comes”) or it isn’t (“Way Down”). Sauter’s bass still reverberates inside the warren of percussion created by Weckerman and Demeski as Mercer’s leads wind through Million’s crisply strummed rhythm like shafts of light in wind-blown trees. The allegiance to the fervent drone of the Velvet Underground is still there, building (for example) to remarkable intensity in the four-and-a-half minute “Change Your Mind.” The time capsule-like quality of Here Before preserves a musical and philosophical perspective that is not particularly common today. Musically, the sound is dramatic without being histrionic. “When You Know” includes some driving passages with pounding drums, slashing rhythm guitar and tangled subtle distorted lead, but it remains tightly focused and does not sprawl. This is the post-punk dark discipline that nearly disappeared after Seattle made excess acceptable again.
A large number of The Feelies’ songs are addressed directly to an unnamed “you,” and even more seem to be about a like-minded collective “we.” The connections to “the other” are either strongly implied or explicit. The much-referred-to self-referential opening lines of “Nobody Knows,”
Is it too late, to do it again?
Or should we wait another ten?
Nobody knows, everyone cares
Everyone’s asking for answers to prayers
is an excellent example. Here Mercer begins with the “we” of the band and then quickly draws in the wider tribe of “everybody.” The truth in this assumption captures something that is pretty much the opposite of feeling alone with the world against you, and is perhaps why listening to The Feelies is so life affirming.
—Bill Chaisson (Trumansburg, NY)