Review: Garry Mulholland, Observer Music Monthly May 2006
It’s a little bit Supertramp, and a little bit Justin Hawkins. But Garry Mulholland has seldom enjoyed soft rock so much.
The Darkness and their abrupt fall from grace is why I’m in the strange position of writing about a brilliant album that will undoubtedly shift major units, while feeling somewhat sorry for Sussex/London quartet the Feeling. The hype around them is similar to that which buoyed Justin Hawkins in 2003, as an ageing pop media rushed to cheer on a group who made them believe that. The Kids had dumped their own culture in favour of their fathers’ old Queen records. When the second Darkness album came out in 2005 they were hastily dismissed as an embarrassing novelty. One suspects that if the Feeling don’t distance themselves from the middle-youth ethos of Guilty Pleasures – the club night founded by Sean Rowley that is built on a love of MOR classics – they may find themselves savaged next time around for inspiring idiot quotes like ‘soft rock is the new punk rock and the Feeling are its Sex Pistols’.
On the evidence of the largely extraordinary Twelve Stops and Home, twenty-something pop classicists Dan Gillespie Sells, Richard Jones, brothers Kevin and Ciaran Jeremiah, and Paul Stewart have even less in common with dancing ironically to ‘The Pina Colada Song’ than they have with punk. They write ornate and soaring conversational love songs, full of heart, bittersweet observation and unashamed street level Englishness. Sure, it’s impossible not to hear the Supertramp influence in a song like ‘Never Be Lonely’. With its jabbering electric piano and use of the phrase ‘bloody well’, an obvious nod to Supertramp’s ‘Bloody Well Right’. But a song and performance like ‘Fill My Little World’ has something that Seventies corporate hacks such as Supertramp. ELO and Andrew Gold never had, even when they made good records: charm. Not to mention innocence, energy, freshness, youth. ‘Give me the song and I’ll sing it like I mean it,’ Gillespie Sells croons gently throughout the stunning ‘Sewn’, but with a powerful sincerity, and, in that line, he marks his group’s territory, a world away from the desperate irony of any MOR revivalists.
The Feeling have an ability, even within the most ambitious song structure of accomplished piece of musicianship, to sound as if they were singing to you in a small, intimate club, rather – and this, lest we forget, is the primary reason that punk existed – than performing down to their audience from some lofty, lapsed hippie rock star perch, with a thinly veiled contempt for pop and its listeners. Refreshingly, they rarely sound pleased with their obvious cleverness.
Twelve Stops and Home is not perfect, though. The songs that follow ‘Sewn’ – ‘Anyone’ and ‘Strange’ – rather wilt in its shadow, and ‘Love it When You Call’ is what the cynical might expect – an arch roll call of every mid-seventies adult-pop cliché imaginable. But the next track ‘Rose’, a melodramatic power ballad, snaps the album back into focus by being unafraid to teeter on the edge of ridiculousness. ‘Same Old Stuff’ is even better, being what Blur might have sounded like if they had preferred Todd Rundgren and Queen to Wire and the Kinks. The blistering grin-inducing guitar solos in this and the following ‘Helicopter’ are wonderful because they possess a hooligan tastelessness, reminiscent of the Darkness and their affectionate parody Big Rock.
Which brings us right back to the kind of fate that might befall the Feeling, if they end up being blamed for one of those media-created ‘movements’ that isn’t in the end, about anything except for forty something terror of being old and uncool. I hope I’m wrong, because there is absolutely no guilty pleasure in loving Twelve Stops and Home. It’s just a pleasure