Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Clandestine Classic XLVI - It's Only Life

The forty-sixth post in an occasional series that is intended to highlight songs that you might not have heard that I think are excellent - clandestine classics, if you will. Maybe they'll be by bands you've never heard of. Maybe they'll be by more familiar artists, but tracks that were squirelled away on b-sides, unpopular albums, radio sessions or music magazine cover-mounted CDs. Time will, undoubtedly, tell.

Now I don't know too much about The Feelies, beyond what can be gleaned from Wikipedia. Their entry in that mostly-correct encyclopaedia of our times suggests they grew out of the American post-punk/new wave scene, but that what distinguished them from their peers was the complexity, intricacy and layering of their "shimmering" guitar work. On the evidence of the only record of theirs I've ever heard, 1988 album Only Life, I'd go along with all of that.

There's a little bit of a story, actually, for me and this album, if you'll allow a digression. Back in 1992, in my last days as a full-time student, in that period of drift between the end of exams and graduation, I spent a lot of time in the University library, specifically the tiny record and CD section. I'd fill an enjoyable part of my days taking CDs out of the library and, despite the fact that home taping was still killing music back then, I'd make poor-quality cassette copies with an unbelievably chunky Philips personal CD player and a secondhand Panasonic boombox. I still have the latter, in the loft, and it still gets occasional use; the former, by contrast, didn't last five minutes. I haven't bought anything Philips-branded since. But now I'm digressing from my digression. Back to the story. So there I am, in 1992, unsure of my library choice but subconsciously yearning for Americana as a substitute for une Americaine. Looking back, I rather suspect I chose The Feelies because the name appealed. Now, I've already written about how I have gone back to that university recently, as my new place of work. And I'm frequenting the library CD section again (the vinyl has all gone). Imagine my surprise to see the exact same Feelies CD, sitting there. Naturally, I borrowed it again, 24 years later. I wonder how many others have borrowed it in the interim; from the condition of the booklet and disc itself, I'm guessing not too many. I've ripped it to MP3 this time, allowing my old, oxidised tape copy to retire from service. It's still a half-decent album, even though it still doesn't do quite enough to qualify as great.

Today's classic does, however. It's track one, side one, entitled It's Only Life. What's so good? Well, it has the Wikipedia-endorsed shimmering, layered guitars, and several subtle ear-worm hooks. It also employs the Talking Heads Road To Nowhere trick of being deceptively simple, with only two chords, but despite (or maybe because of) this the song has a slightly hypnotic effect. Soporific, maybe. And then there's the lyrical intent. There's nothing too high-brow here, nothing Morrissey-esque in its cleverness, simply a nice idea, to whit: don't worry about the bad stuff, it's only life. An admirable, if overly simplistic and ultimately naive, sentiment.

You can pick up Only Life on Amazon, though it's not cheap these days. Why not see if your library has a copy? In the meantime, here is today's clandestine classic. Enjoy.

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