Felt - The Seventeenth Century - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Felt - The Seventeenth Century

by Jeff Penczak Rating:9 Release Date:2018-02-23
Felt - The Seventeenth Century
Felt - The Seventeenth Century

Cherry Red’s unusual Felt reissue program concludes, oddly, with the first album the band released after they switched to Creation. Cherry Red may have let out a collective sigh of relief when they heard what Creation bought: essentially, the equivalent of a one-sided nineteen minute album of instrumentals trading under the mysteriously verbose title, Let The Snakes Crinkle Their Heads To Death! With the departure of major sound sculptist and Lawrence’s songwriting partner and foil, guitarist Maurice Deebank, the new album launches a seismic shift in the band’s sound and showcases the incredible talents of just-turned-19-year old keyboardist Martin Duffy, who joined in time for their final Cherry Red album, Ignite The Seven Cannons.

The album whirls by like the soundtrack for a swirling merry-go-round ride at the local fayre. Opening with the easy listening, jazzy swagger of ‘Song for William S. Harvey’ [Lawrence is up to his old tricks again with obtuse references, in this case to the art director and in-house designer at Elektra Records throughout their '60s/'70s heyday!], the album soon settles into (somewhat) familiar ethereal guitarscape territory with ‘The Seventeenth Century’, featuring an unusual change in direction mid-song that almost sounds like they rewound the tape and played the first half of the song backwards! In his inimitable headstrong determination to right previous wrongs, Lawrence has also decided to retitle the album after this track, supposedly his intention when it was first released 32 years ago.

‘The Palace’ returns Duffy to the foreground with an elegant organ riff serpentining through Lawrence’s crystalline guitar lines, which recall the earlier instrumental passages on Felt’s 1981 debut Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty (those titles!) ‘Indian Scriptures’ is another Duffy gem, a simple little organ ditty that just won’t leave your head. The album’s brevity can be frustrating – songs end before they go anywhere or just when you get “into them”, but there is an innocent charm throughout and I’ve a feeling Lawrence will argue they are as long as they need to be – not a second longer or shorter. Debatable, but the easy listening, almost bachelor-pad ambience and occasional cartoon vibe (finale ‘Sapphire Mansions’ is one of their finest concoctions ever) will put a smile on your face and give the ol’ thumbs up to Lawrence for having the balls to thrust this into a public lining up to put Peter Gabriel, Roxy Music, Genesis, Queen, and Dire Straits atop the album charts in the first half of 1986!

Perhaps lifting inspiration from Nick Drake, Lawrence (one of the industry's true musicologists) has always included instrumentals in Felt albums, almost as if the lyrics were a necessary evil to move product. But perhaps sensing nervous fidgeting amongst the Creation brass, Felt would follow up this entertaining blip in their discography a mere three months later with what is widely considered their masterpiece, Forever Breathes The Lonely Word. Not that there weren’t rough waters ahead, including another all-instrumental album that Lawrence didn’t perform on (he merely made up song titles!) and a split album of short pop tunes and two jazzy instrumentals (the latter tracks, again without Lawrence) before a final return to Cherry Red (via subsidiary él) for the final album that completed Lawrence’s stated remit of releasing ten singles and ten albums in ten years. But that’s a different reissue project waiting in the wings!

A singular talent in an all-too-frequently unforgiving musical universe, Lawrence truly tried to do it his way, and this reissue series – despite a few frustrating hiccups along the way – allowed him to have the last laugh after all.

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