It’s not often that a look at two album covers by the same band make it possible to figure out the musical differences between them, but in the case of the Feelies’ The Good Earth and their debut album, Crazy Rhythms, it’s almost too easy. Crazy Rhythms’ sterile cover lets you know it would be full of sterile music (which isn’t meant as a slight), and The Good Earth’s pastoral cover lets you know that the album at hand is full of sprawling guitar work that evokes images of wind-swept wheat fields.
Without even knowing that R.E.M.’s Peter Buck produced the Feelies’ six-years-in-the-making sophomore album, it can pretty much be summed up in a “R.E.M.-esque” signifier. The guitars are jangly, the vocals are buried in the mix and the drums are as dry as the Gobi. It probably wasn’t a bad career move for the Feelies to hook up with Buck in ’85, given that they’d been shifting lineups and still trying to break through outside of New Jersey for most of the decade. But the resulting album changes the Feelies to the point where it’s like you’re describing a completely different band from the one that made Crazy Rhythms.
Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, per se, since many of the tracks on The Good Earth sound less dated than those on Crazy Rhythms, and the twitchy guitar epics predict the coming arrival of math-rockers like Polvo (“Slipping (Into Something)” and the title track specifically). Plus the Feelies actually show off the Beatles influence that they’d nodded to on Crazy Rhythms with tracks like the Abbey Road-era sounding “Tomorrow Today” and the happy “The High Road.” The Good Earth may not bear the queasy art-rock bend of Crazy Rhythms, but like its predecessor, it showcases a band that always deserved more than it got.