Christ, it’s taken nearly 30 years - but the first round of Felt LP reissues is here. Hope it goes without saying that all five of these lavishly/ludicrously titled albums - Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty (1982), The Strange Idols Pattern And Other Short Stories (1984), The Splendour of Fear (1984), Ignite The Seven Cannons And Set Sail For The Sun (1985) and The Seventeenth Century (formerly Let The Snakes Crinkle Their Heads To Death, 1986) - demand a place in your heart. Collectively they pretty much represent the high watermark of Romanticism in independent British pop/rock. Untold hundreds of bands came up in the 80s drawing from the same kitty of influences - VU, 60s Dylan, Byrds, Modern Lovers - but few wrested those influences into something as strange and compelling and durable as Lawrence's troupe did across their ten album, ten single, ten year lifespan.
Fully remastered, pressed on heavyweight vinyl and housed in gatefold sleeves, these deluxe editions may not be the originals but they feel definitive. Choosing one to recommend above all should be hard, but in fact it’s dead easy: it can only be Crumbling. Strange Idol arguably has the stronger songs, Splendour is more mature and accomplished, but after all this time it’s still the subdued teenage psychedelia of Crumbling that makes you melt, that most vividly conjures England's eternal autumn, and takes you back to your very own LOST DOMAIN… the place from which your whole life and sense of self flows. Exaggeration? Maybe. A bit. But no one can deny that this first iteration of Lawrence’s poetic vision is also the purest...a journey into erotic/narcotic bliss which is that much more powerful for being a work of youthful imagination, rather than lived experience. The sound of becoming - WAY more interesting than the sound of having arrived.
Within moments of hearing ‘Evergreen Dazed’ again - has there ever been a better album opener? - it's obvious that Crumbling's deeper mysteries remain intact. Maurice Deebank’s celebrated stained-glass guitar gleam - no mere jangle but certainly courtly, folkish, droning, out-of-time - speaks more eloquently of suburban frustration and longing than words ever could. Lawrence’s recognition of this, as much as his own songwriting gift, is his genius - he allows Deebank the room to “sing” lead throughout.
Crumbling is also Felt’s most effortlessly avant-garde statement, with a sound and mood every bit as distinctive and sustained as, say, Unknown Pleasures'. It feels like less an album and more like one song divided into six parts, each dissolving into the next. Its arrangements are brittle and minimalist, but they open up lush, aqueous swirls of negative space. Lawrence eschews easily identifiable lyrics in favour of a blurred vocal impressionism...a near-spoken Reed/Verlaine drawl pared down to its vowels-and-sibilance essence). And Gary Ainge's drumming is inspired - all rolling toms, with (famously) no cymbals, and nary a snare in sight either...all adding to the dreamlike, cyclical, liquid-days feel of it all. Not just the best record of the week, this, but the best record we've ever stocked, probably the best record we ever will stock.
"Our real fans haven't been born yet," Lawrence used to assure his demoralised bandmates. Well...you're here now.