“That’s the great thing about The Felice Brothers“, said a mate of mine as we listened to Life In The Dark‘, “you know exactly what you’re going to get.” And it’s true, but this is a compliment, rather than a criticism. As James Felice himself put it, in our interview feature last week, the band have always been exquisite in marrying the “buoyant and the macabre,” and this is perfectly displayed in the single ‘Plunder‘. A wild, blustery sea-storm of a song which begins jubilantly with the affectionately nostalgic line “I had a dog named Archibald/The biggest dog in town,” before ending the verse, rather more calamitously, with “Him and this other dog named Bobby/They let a schoolgirl drown.” Indeed, The Felice Brothers’ world remains inhabited by all manner of sordid figures, tragi-heroes and dubiously intentioned miscreants, but also a healthy dose of hedonistic ritual and romantic bonhomie.
The Clash, of course, attained a famous tagline about being “the only band that matter.” To this end, I would like to make a motion that The Felice Brothers should be recognised henceforth as “the most reliable band since the turn of the millennium.” Seriously, Life In The Dark is as good as anything the band has previously released, and, on several occasions, perhaps even better.
Opening track ‘Aerosol Ball‘, musically at least, should appeal to all ages, the nursery rhyme-like grip of some of its passages sure to delight children (“The cat ate the rat/And the beast ate the cat/And the boy ate the beast/And the beast made him fat“), whilst the quite magical, mystical imagery from the likes of the superb ‘Diamond Bell‘ display a growing maturity, perhaps surpassing anything they have thus far put out. The latter track, an ode to a (presumably) mythical female gunslinger, is sure to draw out the same old tired comparisons to Dylan, but to be frank, if they want that to stop, they might want to consider refraining from writing songs that could fit very comfortably on any one of the septuagenarian legend’s most revered sixties albums! “She spoke as we trampled through the heat/She said the boys from Kansas know I’m hard to beat/Then turning with a grin/She said ‘Sirree, we’re going on a Kansas killing spree’” – this is a classic, enrapturing, vividly recounted story song, as thrilling as it is tragic.
Fear not, however, for fans of the band’s bawdier moments will not be disappointed – the rowdy near instrumental ‘Sally‘ and exuberant ‘Dancing On The Wing‘, with such lyrical gems as “Then came Meredith/She was a Methodist but suffered from epileptic fits.” The centrepiece of the album, the title track, is a gorgeous, heartfelt re-imagination of what it must have been like to be in Anne Frank’s shoes, while the wonderful ‘Jack At The Asylum‘ begins with the rather un-PC lyric “I’m in… the loony bin,” yet somehow the band’s playfulness means they get away with it scot free.
The powerful, poignant ‘Sell The House‘ closes proceedings and shares a similar subtext to a vintage Tom Waits track, ‘Shiver Me Timbers’, for this is a song about departure – leaving everything behind, the narrator possibly at the end of his tether, probably on the verge of doing something drastic.
This is a tremendous album by a truly splendid band. It’s great to have them back.