Felt - The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories

by Jeff Penczak Rating:10 Release Date:2018-02-23
Felt - The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories
Felt - The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories

First, a true story. Having been lulled into a state of catatonic euphoria by Felt’s first two albums, I was happier than a kid on Christmas Day when, thumbing through my local record store (about 30 years ago, back in the day when there WERE record stores) when what do I stumble across but Lawrence & Co.’s third album (second to be released in 1984), housed in a cryptic b&w cover of what appeared to be hieroglyphics or stone carvings from some Incan pyramid. Completing my purchase, I plopped down my cash and raced home to bathe in the crystalline beauty of the cascading guitar interplay between Lawrence of Belgravia (no surname necessary) and Maurice Deebank. Amidst the sunlight that bathed the golden glow around my swirling head, I happened to glance at my receipt. There, in a hastily scrawled chicken scratch, the clerk had written my purchase. Apparently, I was now the proud owner of the new album by “The Strange Idols” called “Pattern and Other Short Stories”. I shit you not! And I thought it was just these millennial dolts that were clueless, as dumb as a box of rocks. To this day, I’m still not sure where Lawrence pulled that title from, although it does sound like something one of his heroes, Jack Kerouac might’ve come up with on a weekend bender.

True to their formula (and ‘60s template), the album zips by in under half an hour, so it probably took you longer to read this review than to listen to the record! And what a record it is. Straight out of the gate, Lawrence is in full-on Lou Reed mode for ‘Roman Litter’, while Deebank spins cartwheels around Gary Ainge’s economical backbeat. Deebank’s exquisite solo, ‘Sempiternal Darkness’ feels like the background track for one of Merchant-Ivory’s Edwardian period pieces, thus showcasing Deebank’s classical training. It also sounds not unlike Steve Howe’s introductory solo on Yes’ ‘Roundabout’!

‘Spanish House’ is a poptastic toe tapper with another brilliant Deebank solo, the pretty, 104-second instrumental ‘Imprint’ should have been used as a TV theme song, and the eminently hummable ‘Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow’ (with its snarky Rimbaud-referenced putdown) and its clever rewrite ‘Dismantled King Is Off The Throne’) should’ve been chart toppers.

Deebank’s second, stark instro ‘Crucifix Heaven’ is a Spanish gypsy flamenco dance, reinstated to the running order after being unceremoniously dumped from previous reissues, and ‘Crystal Ball’ (like ‘Dismantled King’, to be namechecked by Lawrence in a few years in his kiss-off to Deebank, ‘Ballad Of The Band’) flows over the shoulders like a warm summer rain. Finally, the biblical imagery in ‘Whirlpool Vision of Shame’, with references to “burning bushes”, flaming seas, and the apocryphal Book of Naomi (apparently intended as a reference to the Book of Ruth?) is coupled with another Deebank solo for the ages.

As with the other reissues in Cherry Red’s “A Decade In Music” series, a contemporary single is appended to the original album. Unfortunately, the compilers eschewed the original version of ‘Whirlpool Vision of Shame’ by sticking ‘My Face Is On Fire’ on the Splendour of Fear reissue, settling here for Lawrence’s herky-jerky [Tom] Verlainisms in his tribute to the Swinging Sixties model, ‘Penelope Tree’, which does get a passing grade for its self-referential namecheck of ‘Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow’! Oh, that wacky kid! However, the single version of ‘Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow’ (which differs from the album version included herein) is also omitted in favour of the shorter version of ‘A Preacher In New England’, originally the flip of ‘Penelope Tree’. Trainspotters will also recognize the source of Cherry Red’s original Felt greatest hits packages hidden in the lyrics!

But nitpicking aside, this is still one of the greatest albums of the 80s, released at the peak of Felt’s career, when they were firing on all cylinders and still speaking to and interacting with each other. I’d also like to send out props to bassist Mick Lloyd, whose impeccable timing and invisible backbeat propel these songs along their merry way to infinity and beyond. Lloyd died on 28 July 2016, and will be missed, but certainly not forgotten.

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