One would think that after such a high watermark as Forever Breathes, Creation and Felt would want to bank on that goodwill, which is what makes Poem Of The River such a frustrating development. Once again, the band suffered at the hands of an outside producer who didn’t understand them. At the time, Creation head Alan McGeehad a vision of hiring an in-house producer for all of the label’s releases. Not an unreasonable idea, but his choice for the role––American expatriate psychedelic musician Mayo Thompson—was a bit peculiar; he had bona fides in the 1980s British underground, working with such bands as the Raincoats and Essential Logic, as well as his own band Red Krayola, but his style wasn’t an obvious choice for Creation’s roster.
Felt, however, would prove to be the guinea pig in this experiment, and the results were quite different. If Forever Breathes had channeled mid-1960s Bob Dylan, Poem Of The River was Dylan in his country-rock mode. Thompson delivered a slightly psychedelic country Felt record—something no one could have anticipated, much less expected. It’s also an extremely short record, with six tracks in 26 minutes, with the majority of the record’s running time dominated by two epic numbers.
Yet in spite of the production controversy, there is something quite charming about hearing a rootsy Felt. Shorter songs “Declaration,” “Stained Glassed Windows In The Sky,” “Silver Plane,” and “Dark Red Birds” are merely okay; lovely enough on their own, ultimately they are aperitifs between the main course offered by the two long tracks in the middle of the record, “She Lives By The Castle” and “Riding On The Equator.” The former is easily one of Lawrence’s most beautiful songs, bar none; it is a love song for a woman who frustrates and hurts him, yet she is someone he cannot deny. The simple guitar work, Lawrence’s plaintive singing, and the harsh but heartbroken lyrics would be rewarding enough, but Martin Duffy’s organ takes the song to a whole new level, and comparisons to Richard Manuel are not without merit. “Riding On The Equator” has that same stylistic vibe, but with his angry lyrics and the country rock picking, it sounds like a post-punk updating of Dylan’s legendary invective, “Positively 4th Street.” Both songs are superb, but unfortunately it isn’t hard to sense that both of these songs are mere anomalies as opposed to a new sonic direction.
Of course, it’s easy to understand the disappointment Felt might’ve had in this record; it only vaguely sounds like them, and it certainly feels like a step in an odd direction, considering the trajectory they shouldhave had following Forever Breathes. Yet in the topsy-turvy world of Felt, the only thing you could rely on was you never knew what to expect next… a moral that would soon make itself abundantly clear…