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Feeder’s ‘Polythene’: 20th Anniversary Review

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Critically appraising the 1997 debut album by Welsh band Feeder on its 20 years on.

Despite having listened to a heck of a lot of music – both in general and even of that by Welsh rockers Feeder specifically – I cannot remember ever hearing in full the band’s 1997 debut. I had, of course, heard the single ‘High’ and a different version of ‘Suffocate’, being introduced to both through my frequent listening to their collection ‘The Singles as I entered adolescence. I had also heard ‘Tangerine’ and probably ‘Stereo World’. But today, on the album’s twentieth anniversary in a week that also saw the end of the eleventh year since ‘The Singles’ compilation’s release, I decided to take the plunge and review Polythene. I was not sure what exactly to expect in spite of praise given to the album by critics, which was immense but which can be misleading.

The opener ‘Polythene Girl’ is a strong song but unusual way to kick off an album given its relatively midtempo nature, although that adjective does not mean middle-of-the-road in terms of quality. ‘My Perfect Day’ is good and catchy, like much of the music on the album which is clearly similar to pop-punk and post-grunge. Cement is repetitive and so is a lot of the album. This aspect of the music can be either comforting in its familiarity and builds excitement, or annoying and tedious depending on one’s mood.

‘High’ displays, as well as weirdly abstract, presumably drug-inspired poetry, relatively complex rhythms played by drummer John Lee, who also lends –especially on some other tracks – a thumping, absolutely massive drum sound. A gorgeous change of pace signalling future directions on ‘Yesterday Went Too Soon’, ‘Echo Park’ and ‘Comfort in Sound’, it is in this respect similar to ‘Suffocate’ and very different from the likes of another track on the album, ‘Crash’, though that song and those also mentioned in this paragraph share great sounding six-stringed guitars. Suffocate is so superb in its beauty it is almost inconceivable that anyone in the band or their label would believe an alternate recording was necessary, even if the later version was almost as good as the one on this album.

‘Descend’ is the greatest song here, the first to recall grunge legends Billy Corgan and Jimmy Chamberlain, and is probably the first to feature a notable contribution played the bass guitar. ‘Tangerine’ very good, especially its riff and chorus, even if its verses’ lyrics are too simplistic. ‘Stereo World’ riff could be better but is a good song. I must have listened to ‘Change’ but cannot remember doing so; therefore, it is probably unremarkable. ‘Forgive’ isn’t the only song reminiscent of Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream still but adds to the album’s greatness, probably more because of this than despite it. It is also greatly multifaceted and all the better for it, managing to be so without being tedious or too sprawling.

The excellent album closer ‘20th Century Trip’ is similar to Manchester band The Verve’s first album, and also reminds one of both Siamese Dream and My Bloody Valentine’s album ‘Loveless’.

Here, then, we have a very competent and enjoyable effort, a great achievement that many bands would struggle to match. It is arguably one of Feeder’s best albums (according to initial impressions) despite being quite far from perfection. However, better lyrics –with deeper meaning –and wider instrumentation, including a more prominent bass guitar part, would have improved this album greatly.

David Lownds