Bespectacled, cardiganed and hair-cut-by-mommed long before the Smiths made it mandatory (and how come nobody's ever drawn that parallel before? The Smiths as an Anglo Feelies tribute?), the Feelies twitched their way out of the late-'70s Jersey punk scene, spun around New York for a while, and then washed up on London's Stiff Records, possibly the only large-ish label in the world that could even imagine how to market them.
Which, history frowns, never actually happened. High praise in the press amounted to nothing more than a few scrapbook pages and, while the memory of the Feelies files through every purposeful post-punk paean there is (check the soundtracks to Smithereens and/or Something Wild), there was something almost crucifyingly non-self-fulfilling about the band. Almost as if they deliberately set out to make music that slipped just below the commercial radar.
But what they do, they do better than most, and if the ghosts of Big Star, Any Trouble and the Raspberries ever got together to talk behind R.E.M.'s back, their first album since 1992, Here Before, is the soundtrack to the lives they lived.
All the old Feelies feelings are here, from the strumming side of the Velvet Underground (the almost-dreamy, delicious "Later On"), to the sober side of Patti Smith ("Morning Comes" just has her recent vibe). But Here Before is less a recapturing of lost youth than an acknowledgement of the years that have passed since then. Reminiscent in some parts of Broken Bells' best chimes; and in others of Low when they're feeling lots louder, Here Before is exquisitely arranged and melodic as hell, power pop from the days before it got a bad name. In other words, the greatest geeks are still reeling round the fountain, and there's a crazy rhythm tapping in your toes the whole time.