By Samuel Peirce
Artist: Yung Wu
Album: Shore Leave
Release Date: April 21, 2018
After the release of their seminal debut Crazy Rhythms in 1980, post-punk outfit the Feelies were already beginning to splinter off into various side projects. One of these projects was Yung Wu, a sextet comprised of former members, with the addition of Jon Baumgartner on keys. This offshoot recorded and released only one album, 1987s Shore Leave. The original album has long since been out of print, making it a highly sought after item for music junkies and Feelies fanatics alike. Luckily for those collectors, the album is being reissued on April 21. This will surely please those lifelong rabid fans of the band. But is their anything in it for those of us not already in the loop? Why should anyone outside of the fanbase give a darn? Well, after listening, I can safely say that this album is an enjoyable, sprightly collection of songs with a charm that’ll ensnare anyone with a fond disposition towards 80s jangle pop and the like. In other words, you don’t have to be way into the Feelies to like Shore Leave.
Coming into this, the only Feelies album I’d listened to before is the aforementioned Crazy Rhythms. That being said, Shore Leave is mostly very different in tone and style. Those familiar with the nervous tension of the former will notice that the sound of the latter is much more mellow. This album opts for a more melodic approach, the songs here having parts to them (verse, bridge, chorus) unlike Crazy Rhythms with its hypnotic two-chord punk. Vocalist Dave Weckerman sings with amateurish abandon as opposed to the cool, neurotic vocal stylings of Bill Million before him.
This departure from the original sound is evident on the first and title track, “Shore Leave.” It’s a fun song with folksy acoustic guitar and an overall sunny aura. It also establishes the occasional usage of traveling and nautical themes present throughout the album. Lyrics depict imagery of splitting coconuts on a beach and sailing the seas. The accordion on this track in particular evokes the feeling of a sea shanty. “Strange Little Man” sounds like Reckoning-era R.E.M. with its chiming arpeggiated guitar and busy bass-line, and it too continues this trend of sea-related things with the mention of barnacles and fishmongers.
“The Empty Pool” is comparatively dissonant with its droning keys and steady primal drumming. The lyrics are vague and poetic and I don’t really know what to make of it all, but again, the ocean faring idea comes in the chorus of “They’re searching out over the sea”. This naval motif isn’t used to the point of making this some sort of concept album, but the subject matter is somewhat accentuated by the bright aesthetic of the songs, and it just works.
Other songs that aren’t so thematic in their lyrics still uphold that shiny sensibility and wistfulness. “Aspiration” has an almost beachy feel to it with hollow, tubular electric guitar and a simple acoustic rhythm in the background. It’s very much in the vein of Camper Van Beethoven. “Spinning”, meanwhile, couldn’t sound more like an indie pop gem. The melody coupled with the curbstone, earnest singing of Weckerman gives it a near-twee essence. Bill Million’s and Glenn Mercers’ guitar work is really something to be admired on this album, and it really shows here. The lead guitar is angular and versatile, bringing to mind the fancy guitar work of Television’s own Richard Lloyd.
Among the eight songs are three covers. When it comes to covers, the good kind are usually either near replicas of the original, or they take the original in an exciting new direction. The covers of the Rolling Stone’s “Child Of The Moon” and Neil Young’s “Powderfinger” are both pretty faithful to the original versions, albeit with an inevitable uniqueness consequent of, well, not actually being the Rolling Stones or Neil Young. The cover of “Big Day”, however, is notably different. The song was originally a synthy pop tune on Phil Manzanera’s Diamond Head and featured co-songwriter Brian Eno on vocals. This adaptation trades in the sparse nature of the original for faster, guitar-driven power pop. Stanley Demeski’s militant drumming adds greatly to that energy. These three covers do well alongside the originals rather than feel like filler, and they’re actually some of my personal favorites.
When it comes to obscure spinoffs of bands, there’s always the chance that the material really only caters to a niche fanbase. A collector’s item such as this one could very well be the type of thing that’s inaccessible, maybe even unlistenable to anyone who isn’t already a diehard fan who just has to hear everything related to their favorite band. I would argue that Shore Leave is not one of those albums. It’s really nothing like you haven’t heard before, but that doesn’t detract from it in any way. If you’re just into simple melodic indie pop from the 80s, then this album will surely scratch that itch.