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.
The Feelies were one of the most highly regarded bands of their time, rising out of the crowded post-punk New York scene and trailblazing a path for American indie rock. Their first two records, Crazy Rhythms and The Good Earth, helped shape the sound of rock recording with clean, crisp guitar tones. What the Stooges were to bands like The Ramones and Sex Pistols, the Feelies were to bands like R.E.M, Pavement, and Sonic Youth. Calling it a career in 1991, the New Jersey band never got its due except in print, placing high on many critics’ retrospective best-of lists for the 80’s. Twenty years later and bolstered by new interest ignited by their ATP 2009 performance of Crazy Rhythms, The Feelies have reunited, perhaps to once again recapture some of that magic.
This reunion shares many similarities to last year’s reemergence of Swans. Like Swans, the Feelies reuniting was not treated as a grand event; there was no documentary film, no stadium tour, no merchandising tie ins. It was just some old folks getting together and quietly writing an album. However, any band that comes together after prolonged hibernation must face the question, “Why bother?” While the Swans excellent album completely ducks this question, The Feelies address it head on. From the album’s title all the way down to the last lyric, Here Before is a document of not only the optimism and thrill of starting again but a thought experiment for a band in identity limbo, coming together one last time for what might be the wrong reasons.
Glenn Mercer’s lyrics are constant reminders of the absurdity of their situation. To him, The Feelies reunion is the wish of everyone except the band. Nostalgia rules the musical dollar and people remember years ago just like yesterday, he remarks on “Should Be Gone.” He dryly admits The Feelies should’ve been out of the game long ago and being allowed back in twenty years later is perhaps the biggest indication that music today is stuck in a perpetual feedback loop. But if the people want him and his band to play Crazy Feelings from back to front all the day long (and pay $30 a ticket), he’s got no problem with that.
On the final track, “So Far,” he concedes that, yes, this is what he wants to do and what is right for now. He hopes that people will eventually leave the past in the past and that the Feelies will be allowed to die, but admits he doesn’t know when that’s going to happen. “How long?/ How far?” asks Mercer, as the album fades to a close. For those who bemoan all the old foagies on stage, Glenn Mercer stands with you in solidarity. Please move on, he asks politely.
Here Before’s unique perspective is an incredible portrait of a band smartly accepting that they are past their prime. It’s a Raging Bull reevaluation on the band’s career, with Mercer pondering the motivations for the band’s continued existence while simultaneously showing gratitude for the opportunity to do so. The album reminds us that every musician’s hope is that their musical legacy outlives their own. But when the music becomes secondary–when it’s more important to be a band than to put out vital music–what does that mean? What does that mean to songwriters when they’re no more than glorified jukeboxes? And when does it stop?