Reviewed by Harry Kaplan
I hear about 1977 being that seminal year in rock n roll. And it was a phenomenal year. But 1988 was just as good, if not better. There was one groundbreaking release after another. That year shaped the musical landscape for the next 10 years. I had graduated college in May of 1988 and was pounding the pavements to find a professional job. I was struggling. In September of 1988, on the advice of a friend, I applied for a job at a record store. Not a chain store, but a local shop that had 4 or 5 locations. I applied on one day and they literally called me to start the next day. This was not a glamorous job. I had to wear this nauseating, lemon yellow polo shirt. I didn’t make very much money. Minimum wage, whatever that was then. Although, I knew this wouldn’t be a career job, I was happy to work and listen to new music and expand my musical horizons. I had just spent 4 years listening to nothing but Grateful Dead music. It was by choice. Now I was in an environment where that was never played. I was hearing new and fresh music for the first time in a long time.
One of the first albums I heard at the record store was Only Life by this New Jersey band called the Feelies. I was mesmerized. It touched me. Every song was edgy and beautiful at the same time. I realized I had missed out on some beautiful music being made. I was under the impression that nothing good in music came after 1972. I was so wrong. Here was this band just belting out beautiful music and harmonies. I couldn’t get enough of this record. I remember many a fall morning, being somewhat hungover from the night before, and putting this record on first thing. The cool fall air on the outside made the door steam up on the inside. On sunny days, rays of sunlight would peer through the window area not covered by rock and roll posters. Songs like Higher Ground, Deep Fascination, For Awhile, and It’s Only Life would be playing to create a movie like image in my mind.
I didn’t even have a CD player at that point, I was still buying vinyl. This was one of the first records I purchased that was made after 1972 in quite a few years. I wore this record out. From the first note of It’s Only Life, it captures you and pulls you in. Then hearing the lovely guitar riffs in Deep Fascination, and the Lou Reed style vocals. The lyrics are smart and thought provoking. Then the next song starts off with a lovely little guitar riff and a teeny weeny bit of feedback, for good measure, of course. “On my way, Headin’ down, Time to find, Higher ground”. That’s pretty heavy. The album progresses nicely from there. Until the crescendo, an absolutely pristine cover of the Velvet Underground’s What Goes On. It is just executed with extreme precision. They do the Velvets proud.
When I heard that Only Life has been reissued, it brought back so many good memories. As I listen now, all those memories come back in vivid color. I have it already in both vinyl and CD, but this reissue comes with 4 bonus tracks. That alone, makes it worth the purchase. This sounds just as good as it did that first listen back in 1988. The bonus tracks, which are all live, was a hair raising experience. If you own this already, buy another copy. If you don’t, consider yourself fortunate that you can buy it. It was and still is a monumental release from a super group.
The link to order is here.