Someone once dared me to listen to every album by the feelers in one night. Desperate for content, I had a go at exactly that. Take a stroll with me now, down a memory lane of sorts…
Here we go then, with their silly lower-case name and lower-
class songs: the feelers.
That first single, Pressure Man, was very good. It was 1998. And it was very good at least in the sense that it didn’t sound that far removed from what was flooding on to the radio. Bands like Bush. I never liked that sound – but my ears pricked up when I first heard Pressure Man. The first few times in fact. I was sent to review the band’s first Wellington concert. At least I think it was their first Wellington concert. It was one of the first concerts I reviewed. I probably said nice things. I was probably very grateful for the free tickets.
Listening to this album for the first time right through I’m struck by how instantly dated it is – how horrible it very quickly becomes to hear it now. And how, still, it could be taken as a blueprint for Zed, Opshop, Midnight Youth, Supermodel and at least another handful of really awful Kiwi bands that try very hard to appear like they’re not really trying very hard at all.
I’m halfway through the album when I realise that I was sent – a second time – to see the feelers. Within months of that first gig, and still with just the one album, they were on Wellington’s biggest indoor music stage. A horrible venue, made worse with the very boring feelers music. Breathe was on the bill. They can be added to that list above. (Isn’t it mad that I still have the ticket/press-pass? Rhetorical question).
Released in 2001 this is probably the best album by the feelers. There was even, prophetically, a song called As Good As It Gets. And, pathetically, one called Fishing For Lisa. The title song might even be their best song. But isn’t that a bit like admitting that the romantic comedy you wished you never saw, with a storyline you predicted 10 minutes in, featuring every boy-meets-girl/meet-cute cliché out, was actually rather good simply because it ticked those boxes? Welcome to the rinse-and-repeat world of the feelers and very quickly the songs blur. I’m sure that half of Communicate was also half of Supersystem. It will become half of three other albums too.
Two years have passed and the feelers return with the hard and heavy album. Weapons Of War, Larger Than Life, Supernova, Stand Up. You don’t need to know these songs to know these songs. Books can (often) be judged by their covers. Bands can be judged by the way they look and the names of their songs – but I have never heard the first three feelers albums all the way through so I’m biting down hard and taking this one, as I did with Communicate and Supersystem, for the team. I’m starting to resent the feelers very much. I think I thought I’d come out of this feeling a little sorry for them. And I do. But not in the way I first predicted. This band cops a lot of grief and I think that perhaps I was hoping to see some reason to unpick that, to feel that it’s all a little over the top. But the singer has just strained to inform me something along the lines of “Don’t play the tortured artist with me/Or you can pack up all your bags and then leave/Yeah you know what I’m saying for you to take heed”.
I can’t begin to count the ways I hate that lyric. But I can think of an alleged artist that I would like to see tortured.
I’m having a flashback to when I used to flat with a girl that regularly boasted about sleeping with the drummer from the feelers. She would bring it up and then talk about how it was no big deal and it didn’t mean anything. She would tell people not to even bother asking her about it. She never seemed to realise that for the entire time during each one of these one-sided conversational interludes she was the only one talking. Ah, feelers fans eh. She took one for the team.
Ok, so this is the only album by the feelers that I have actually reviewed. And that I have actually heard before. I made it all the way through this album – once – after I was given this to review for The Dominion Post. I’m not sure exactly who I had offended in order to receive this. But by this point in time, end of 2006, the feelers are nothing more than a pest. A rich, annoying pest. They only have to offer a light sneeze for NZ on Air to join in and cough up money. James Reid scored $50,000 for a solo album. It took a while to arrive too. When I met NZ on Air’s Jane Wrightson (it was her idea for us to “catch up” after I wrote about her organisation bungling a few things a few times) I asked her what she thought about James Reid being given $50, 000 for a solo album that hadn’t happened. You know what she said? She said “who’s James Reid?” Arts funding people: they’ll always answer your question with a question. I almost wish I was kidding here but this is the truth. She had no idea who James Reid was. In that sense I guess I envy her. I did get to tell Wrightson, to her face, that one way NZ on Air could go some distance towards fixing its damaged reputation was by “never giving the feelers any money ever again!” That felt good. I doubt it will (ever) work. But it really did feel good. I’ve got your back New Zealand music fans with taste! I’ve got your back.
And my review of One World? Well, from back in 2006, here it is:
Album number four for the feelers, arriving, like clockwork, in time for the summer pub tour. the feelers really are awful – lowest-common-denominator pub-rock for people whose cultural barometer has suffered from cracked face-glass and a ditsy needle ever since Cold Chisel disbanded. And then reformed. And then disbanded. James Reid’s annoyingly thin rasp of a voice grates in a way that only the sound of a new feelers record can suggest. The arrangements are dull and plodding – acoustic underpinning guitars feature on almost every track, it’s as if Jim Steinman was absent but told the band to just make the demos for Bat Out Of Hell VIII without his Wagnerian keyboard approach and played at half-speed. The feelers seem to have, almost implausibly, racked up a good double fistful of hit singles in the last half-decade (some things really are worse than NZ Idol). Here, the opening track, Weak And The Wounded (which I assume addresses the band and then its audience, in that order) has a shrieking chorus, “are you happy now?” To which I found myself shouting back in the direction of my car’s CD player, “of course not. I’m listening to the new Feelers album!” Go on then, buy your sister it for Christmas.
A lot of people managed to escape 2011 without finding out there was a new feelers album. I was almost one of them. I escaped the year without listening to it. Then I took up the suggestion to listen to all of the feelers albums in a row. Five years on – the band’s biggest break between albums. You get the feeling now they only release them so their accountants have some receipts to count and tally, expenses can be claimed, and they get to write musician down as a job when flying – oh and there was that Rugby World Cup song, the cover of Jesus Jones. That is on this album. That’s probably the reason for this album. That is a horrible cover.
There are 65 songs across the feelers albums to date – 13 on each album. Unlucky for some/all. Every single song is between two and a half and five and a half minutes. The three/four-minute pop single is the coveted form. There are four chords used on every album. The same four. And that, I think, is a big part of why people in New Zealand hate the feelers. Any early glimpse of potential was discarded in favour of the pay-day from providing safe, boring plodder-fodder, assisted by Government funding. (That part stings a little for a lot of people, especially others in this country making music).
People really do hate the feelers in New Zealand. And, well, it’s a bit like Nickelback really in that there are actually worse bands about. But Nickelback and the feelers are hated. Nickelback is the North American equivalent. Or the feelers is the antipodean Nickelback. But just as there really are bands out there that are far worse than the feelers and Nickelback…also there really aren’t.
So I made it out the other side of wasting an evening listening to every feelers album. Truth be told I have trained myself to switch off in these situations. I once won an in-store play competition when I worked in a music store. We had to play Carly Binding’s new album every day for a few weeks to drive sales. Well, we had to be playing it when we got the mystery phone call. There was one way to win – and so I did it. I played the album every day. Several times. No strategy about what days might receive calls. I just played it all the time. It was horrible. Did it grow on me? Not at all. I hated it. I wrote a review for the paper slagging it off because it was rubbish. The record company had to grudgingly hand over a new home theatre system because I had earned the prize fair and square. It was salt in the wound to them that the review appeared in print the day the competition ended. But I reckon I met their terms.
It was the same for me last night with the feelers. I loaded all the albums up and took what they had to offer. I didn’t find any gems on the albums after Communicate. I didn’t have a eureka moment where I decided that one song – just one song even – was a small stroke of genius. I didn’t feel I had been depriving myself of some great feelers listening experience and should have done this a lot sooner. I just loaded up the albums and made it out the other side just under five hours later. For a while there I couldn’t make out the edges on any one object. Everything was soft and fuzzy, kinda blurry. But I made it.
I know one thing from this experience: the feelers are a much-maligned band. Hated by many. And unless that attitude continues we just might have to read about them receiving more state money that the CEO of the funding body will conveniently forget about. And there will be another album. And another. Because those same 13 songs just keep getting recycled. And that’s a shame to anyone – both listener or musician – who wants something beyond the mind-numbingly dull, the stunningly average and the blatantly mundane.