The Splendour of Fear reviewed by Christian Ewen
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THE SPLENDOUR OF FEAR- BY EWEN
I've never heard another album quite like Felt's The Splendour Of Fear. Don't misunderstand, this album doesn't seismically shift the barriers of contemporary pop music the way say Kraftwerk did for example.....but there's just something very special about this recording that I can't quite (and possibly never will) be able to put my finger on.
The elements of Felt's sound really should not work. Lawrence, the group's eccentric, enigmatic leader, is not a conventional singer. In fact, he really doesn't sing at all. His whispered utterings on pellucid ice and drops of blood from the devil's tap in a toneless baritone may to some absolutely reek of pretension- on here it sounds nothing short of majestic. The moment Lawrence's words flood out from the speakers, you're transported into another world, a world that The Sisters Of Mercy's Andrew Eldritch could only dream of. Lawrence's lines are pieces of pure poetry, rhyming couplets never attempted before or since. Maybe other artists have attempted to emulate his prose and failed miserably, maybe others simply think it's a load of toss. Either way it doesn't matter. On this recording, the words are vital, conjuring up doomy Gothic images that aren't really of this world.
The fact that of the six songs to appear on The Splendour Of Fear only two tracks actually feature Lawrence's vocally strange romantic musings ( The World Is As Soft As Lace and The Stagnant Pool), the effect is all the more that extra special.
Then there's the drums. What on earth was going on in Lawrence's mind? By popular belief, Lawrence forbade drummer Gary Ainge to use snare drums or cymbals, leaving him only with a set of tom toms to utilise. Unbelievably, Ainge succeeds superbly during the album's half hour duration, providing a pulsing heartbeat to songs as beautiful as The World Is As Soft As Lace and The Stagnant Pool The drums sound like he's playing on damp strips of cardboard, murky but hypnotic.
Then there's the guitars.....Jesus the guitars. The moment Maurice Deebank's crystalline guitar lines on Red Indians reach the ears, you're hooked. This boy can play, no question. His classical training and scant regard for the conventional riff is the secret ingredient behind Felt's very special sound, and never before on a recording has his six-stringed prowess been brought so well to the fore. Deebank dominates this album from the get-go. His weaving, intricate guitar playing on The World Is As Soft As Lace is intoxicating and his noodlings on the seven minute-plus opus The Optimist And The Poet are superb. What strikes me more with Deebank's playing is his decision to play all his lines so cleanly. There's NEVER any distortion in Felt's songs, which only serves to highlight just how technically adept Deebank and to a lesser extent Lawrence were on guitars.
Lawrence's playing does warrant a mention. The fact one of his favourite groups of all time is Television comes as no surprise. Television's famed guitar interplay between Verlaine and Lloyd has become the stuff of legend and Lawrence must have rubbed his hands with glee when he enrolled the virtuoso Deebank into Felt's proceedings. The guitar interplay on The World Is As Soft As Lace and Mexican Bandits is brilliant, with Lawrence carefully arpeggiating his chord shapes to glistening effect while Deebank runs riot on the fretboard, effortlessly reeling off complex scales.
The interplay runs through this album's core and the more you listen to it, the more intricacies you'll pick up. A carefully struck note here, a slight nuance there, it's all perfect.
Helping aforementioned drummer Gary Ainge keep this beautiful music throbbing at its core is bassist Mick Lloyd, who keeps things simple but effective. He never dominates proceedings, that's Deebank's job, but his contributions to Mexican Bandits and The World Is As Soft As Lace get better on every listen. His bassline on Red Indians is really ominous, setting the tone for the album ahead- that this isn't going to be easy listening. Yet, in it's own strange and beautiful way, it is. Very much so, though it's an album of a certain mood and setting in my opinion. An album to enjoy on a quiet evening in when all your attention is focused on the music and the music alone.
The Splendour Of Fear really shouldn't work. Technically 'crap' vocals, opaque lyrics, weird guitar noodlings, cardboard drums.....the fact that it DOES work is a splendour we should all allow ourselves to be immersed in, and by God does it work well.
This is still my favourite Felt record, the one that inspired me to dig out the rest of their albums, though in my opinion, none of the others really come close.
Lush production, great tunes and for the short attention spanners among us- clocking in at just over half an hour- this really is an album any fan of cult indie outfits should not be without.
Indie Pop music will never see Lawrence's (and Deebank's) like again.