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  Stains On A Decade  
  Cherry Red  
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Felt have some amazing tunes. They are, in my professional opinion, the greatest largely unknown band from the 80's. No, really. Felt created a string of lovely albums and singles (10 of each in 10 years, if you believe the mythos).

But first, a bit of history to put this into perspective. Felt was mostly the project of "Lawrence" (he didn't use his last name, kinda like "Prince", or "Madonna", or "Alf" i guess). He started the band and hired some other musicians, including a guitar prodigy named Maurice Deebank. Over the first four years of the 1980's, Felt made four albums of stunning guitar-driven New Wave. But supposedly tensions ran high, and in 1985 they added an organist, Martin Duffy (later to join Primal Screen). Then, after only one album with both organ and guitar, Deebank left and was not replaced. Instead, Duffy's organ took the place of the lead guitar, and Felt was never the same. Musically it is as if we are talking about two different bands here. Listening to their recorded output, there is a drastic sound difference between early (guitar) Felt and later (organ) Felt. Two bands. And, to be honest, i find the organ work oppressive and tedious after a while.

Cherry Red Records, who were home to Felt for a large portion of their career, plan to re-issue the long out-of-print Felt albums during 2003 and 2004, and, in order to kick off their re-issue campaign, they comissioned Lawrence to gather his favorite tracks onto a compilation. Stains on a Decade is that compilation, and it fail to live up to my expectations.

The first disappointment has to do with song choice. It's not that he has chosen the worst Felt songs, or even that he has ignored their best songs. The problem is that he has chosen weird versions of these songs. Well, i guess this is true mostly of the early Felt music that fills the first half of the disc, but seeing as how the latter Felt releases are impossible to find (and largely unfamiliar to me), i do not know if the versions of those songs are weird too. But more on that later.

Let me just give you an example. On their amazing 1984 album The Strange Idol's Pattern and Other Stories, the song Sunlight Bathed the Golden Glow is a beautiful guitar-driven affair with light vocals. However, the version on this compilation features backup singers that are too loud and, in all honesty, sound like they were overdubbed onto the existing track. WTF? An otherwise great track, completely and utterly ruined. I actually despise this verson of the song, and want to find a way to remove it from my CD permanently. It is that vile. However, that is the only noticabley atrocious version.

Otherwise, things proceed nicely as we hit the midpoint of the compilation. Primitive Painters is not only Felt's masterpiece and a lost classic of the 1980's, but also the only Felt song that most people have ever heard. Then Cocteau Twin Robin Guthrie produced this one, and his rich multi-layered studio wizardry is evident. His bandmate, Liz Fraser, also lends her pipes to some backing vocals and almost overshadows Lawrence's lead vocal. Anyway, this is an amazing tune, one of my favorites of all time. It comes from that brief overlap period between early (guitar) Felt and late (organ) Felt, so here you get both a nice organ drone and tinkling guitarwork.

But then we get into the portion of Felt's career after Deebank had left the band. Quite honestly, i think they suffered tremendously from his absence, and yet over half of the disc is devoted to that time, which from a historical perspective is accurate. But history ain't always all it's cracked up to be. You see, most of Felt's catalog has been out of print for a long time. The early stuff bears a Cocteau Twins connection, so CT fans and traders have kept that portion of Felt's music circulating. Therefore i have their first four albums. The later stuff didn't much interest CT fans, so it is unknown to me. According to the press, Felt had quite a few hits in the UK from this time period, and these are gathered here. However, it's my first time with much of the music, and i confess to be tremendously disappointed.

Sure, Lawrence continued to grow as a lyricist, and some of his wordplay on the latter half of this disc is stunningly poetic, but the music really suffers from Duffy's dominance. Felt misses the guitar of Deebank, and, without him, they are a mediocre band. That said, i can see a certain influence on Belle & Sebastien and similar fey pop acts. Still, there are a couple of interesting tunes in the latter (organ) Felt portion on the disc. I Will Die With My Head in Flames is, perhaps, Duffy's finest contribution to the band. The organ really drives this tune along, and the melody is really catchy. In direct musical contrast is The Final Resting of the Ark, which is a short solo piece, pretty much consisting of just Lawrence singing delicately over strummed guitar. Very lovely.

Overall, well, i am not as impressed with this compilation as i would have hoped. It was my first introduction to much of the post-Deebank work of the band, and, well, that stuff kind of stinks. Still, i suppose it is good to know this now before i set off to dump lots of money into the re-releases. But if you have never heard Felt before, then this is an adequate introduction. It does blend their two very different periods in a way that is uncomfortable to me, but you might enjoy. I guess that, in summary, i am very undecided on this release.

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