CD Review of Twelve Stops and Home by The Feeling

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Twelve Stops and Home
starstarstarstarhalf star Label: Interscope
Released: 2006
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Every few years, a power pop band gets signed to a major label deal, gets a swell of good buzz, and falls flat on its face due to lack of promotion. It’s as if the labels sign these bands just to show that they actually have better taste than their roster of artists would otherwise suggest, but like a junior high school kid with wavering self-esteem, they end up abandoning the thing they love in favor of goosing another million units out of the latest Mimi McDivapants album, since that’s what all the rich kids are doing. Ask Sugarbomb about that one. Then again, don’t ask Sugarbomb about that one: they were dropped two weeks after their (awesome) album Bully was released, and imploded soon after.

So will things be any different for the Feeling, the London quintet responsible for the super-fab Twelve Stops and Home? Probably not, to be honest, and here’s why. Twelve Stops and Home might be the best Supertramp album of all time, with dashes of 10cc, Ambrosia and even Queen thrown in for good measure. With the exception of Queen, all of those bands I listed are incredibly uncool nowadays, without even the hip-to-be-square factor going for them. Worse, those bands are old, and old is really, really uncool. A crime against humanity, say I, because these guys are really, really good, deeply versed in the ‘70s like they were there, when in fact it all came and went before the band members were born.

The opening track “I Want You Now’ is a bit misleading, as it’s reminiscent of the late ‘90s power pop boom, where a bunch of bands decided Jellyfish was the greatest band ever (and this is no dig on Jellyfish, since they were pretty damn cool) and went about making shitty knockoffs of Jellyfish songs, which were already knockoffs to begin with, so you had that whole copy-of-a-copy thing (not pretty). The album really takes off with the second track “Never Be Lonely,” a mid-tempo piece filled with jumpy Rhodes piano, a dash of slide guitar (natch) and piles upon piles of harmonies. The piano-driven “Fill My Little World” is a tad more aggressive, but contains one of those simple-as-pie choruses that will not escape your brain for weeks. (“Come fill my little world right up / Right up.” Reads funny, sounds dreamy.) “Love It When You Call” comes dangerously close to cribbing Huey Lewis & the News’ “Power of Love,” but fortunately jumps off-road before all is lost. Lest you think the album is one big mush-fest (though to be honest, it is mostly a mush-fest), there’s “Helicopter,” which begins with a climbing keyboard melody and a vocal tongue-twister of sorts (“My piano’s out of tune, I wish / It wasn’t I wish that you were mine / I wish that my world was softer / And I own a helicopter”), and closes with a monster guitar riff that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Soundgarden album. Call it “Goodbye Stranger” for a new generation.

The worst thing that can be said about Twelve Stops and Home isn’t even the band’s fault: the final mix is horribly botched. To use an engineer’s term, the mix is way too hot, sounding too loud even when it’s played at a low level. The new Killers album Sam’s Town has the same problem, and it’s inexcusable. There are also quite a few daft lyrics that made the final cut, like “People gonna rate you, people gonna hate you / People gonna shove you, people gonna love you” in “Strange.” But for every misstep the band makes – and there are only a couple – there are ten dead-perfect examples of what classic pop songwriting is all about. Look at “Sewn” and how it ebbs and flows from a whisper to a scream when the moment calls for such action. Look at the lighter-waving sing-a-long chorus of “Blue Piccadilly.” This band has mad, mad skills.

What a shame, then, that without a massive promotional effort behind Twelve Stops and Home, few are likely to hear this fantastic little record. It is the bar to which current pop songwriting, in an ideal world, would be held, and if these guys know how to do it right, then there is no excuse for settling for less from anyone else. The revolution starts here: buy three copies of Twelve Stops and Home, one for you and two for friends. It’s time to end the sound of settling once and for all.

US Release update

Same songs, different order. The not-exactly-representative opening track “I Want You Now” is wisely replaced (it’s now the album’s sixth track), but its replacement is first single “Sewn,” and while that’s a lovely, lovely song, it’s also not the most rockin’ song way to start an album, either. The most noticeable change between the US version and the UK version, though, is the decision to replace the colorful artwork with a more straight-forward (read: dull) photo of the band. Let’s put it this way: if you didn’t already know how good these guys were, you wouldn’t be tempted to take a risk on them after looking at the cover. But take a risk you should.

~David Medsker