I have a confession to make. Last week there was a programme on Channel 4 about Feeder. I found it interesting. Because, whilst today I wouldn’t buy a CD unless it sounded like somebody shoving their laptop through a cheesegrater, back in the day (I can’t remember precisely which day, but it was during 2000) I was a fan of the mundane rock band.
The folly of youth? I don’t know about that. I can’t remember what my first album was, but I think it might have been ‘Octopus’ by The Human League, which in retrospect seems like an odd choice for a boy yet to hit double figures. But anybody who knows me today might think that being interested in electronic music from Sheffield from that early age was amazingly prescient. The first band I truly loved — at the age of nine — was Pulp, a band which I still very much approve of.
Then hair started growing in funny places and I had to go through the process of being a teenager. My taste in music took a bit of a dip as I entered the phase which seems to be mandatory for anybody sitting their Standard Grades (or GCSEs): the GCSE rawk phase. GCSE rawk is the sort of music which kids think will make them the coolest in the playground because it is supposed to be very alternative and underground. But this is a delusion as it is actually pretty banal and mediocre, as the regular airplay on early evening Radio 1 shows.
Most of us have probably been through this phase. And because the GCSE rawk phase hits you at a cruical stage of your development, you can’t ditch it in the same way as I forgot about The Human League. So even though many people my age may have moved on to pastures new in terms of our taste in music, we all have a band that we still follow as a hangover from the GCSE rawk phase. For some people it is Placebo. For others it’s Muse. For me it is Feeder.
And which of those bands have gone on to be the tossiest? Of course it would have to be the one that I liked. This is slightly embarassing for me because many people at school knew I was into Feeder before they had actually become well-known. Feeder weren’t actually bad (honest!) back in the late 1990s. But the moment they started half-heartedly churning out radio-friendly bilge they became pretty big. Most people probably think of Feeder as that pants-wetting band with the awful lyrics. And years after their breakthrough in 2001 I still had people asking me if I still liked Feeder.
One person who I didn’t know at school castigated me when she found Feeder tracks on my MP3 player. She complained: “You like all this weird shit, so why have you got Feeder on there?!” I had difficulty explaining, especially as just minutes ago she found MP3s of the BBC News 24 countdown! My reputation was in tatters.
I found out recently that I still have a soft spot for Feeder though. ‘Polytheneâ€™ is not actually a bad album. I was never too keen on heavy rock so at the time I actually preferred their second album, ‘Yesterday Went Too Soonâ€™. In retrospect, it seems more like a stepping stone to the weak style that made them popular.
I look at both albums quite fondly. ‘Yesterday…’ in particular always used to cheer me up if I felt down. The music was fairly good, so you could forgive Grant Nicholas’ sometimes laughable cat-sat-on-the-hat lyrics.
I swear I did not make that up. Those are the genuine opening lyrics of early fan favourite ‘Tangerine’. Granted, that is a particularly cringeworthy example. But it’s safe to say that Nicholas would not have made it as a poet.
At the time of release, rumour had it that ‘Echo Parkâ€™ had to be a success, or Feeder would have lost their record deal. So even though it was quite a weak album with a radio-friendly sheen (yes, you might say that they sold out), some people thought it was just a blip and they would soon be back to their old ways.
Fat chance! That never happens. Feeder are one of those bands where, in the lull between albums, they always claim to be returning to a rockier sound for their next album. They never do. In fact, they are becoming ever more insipid.
Despite the change in direction that their breakthrough single, ‘Buck Rogers’, represents, I actually think it is one of their best songs. I was quite excited when I first heard it, and the video was cool aswell! The album proved to be a disappointment to me, but it brought Feeder commercial success. They had reached a certain status: the sort of band that was popular enough to get invited on to T4, but not popular enough to even think about turning down T4.
Last week’s Channel 4 programme somewhat glossed over this. His death was mentioned, but the fact that it was suicide wasn’t. Instead, they said, “Like fellow Welsh rockers the Manic Street Preachers, they lost a band member to a young age.” I thought the comparison was a bit off. It seemed like a desperate attempt to make Feeder look as good as the Manics. Somehow I get the feeling that rock history will judge Feeder pretty harshly in comparison with the Manics.
Apparently most of ‘Comfort in Sound’ was written before Lee’s death, but it was inevitably going to be viewed in the context of Lee’s death, particularly given the reflective feel of the album. The album confirmed that ‘Echo Park’ was anything but a blip. Feeder had changed musical direction for good, and cemented themselves as one of Britain’s biggest bands in the process, in the medium-term at least.
I was in 6th year at school at the time, and Feeder was on in the common room a lot, be it on radio or CD. By the end of the year I never even noticed when Feeder was on. I had heard the singles so much it was like white noise. Nevertheless, I still think ‘Comfort in Sound’ is a fine album. Okay, it is over-produced and sickeningly radio-friendly. But although I am thoroughly sick of the singles, a lot of the album tracks are really quite good.
Any of their material after that, though, is just unforgivable. Luckily my brother is now a bigger Feeder fan than I am, so I can hear the music without having to shell out for it. Almost without exception, Feeder’s recent material has been real guff of the highest order. It really has been a bittersweet experience to watch the rise in popularity and decline in quality of this band. Six or seven years ago I would have wished them all the recognition in the world. Now I am an old cynic who thinks there is no justice in the world.
I was in HMV last week, and I realised that I recognised the voice that coming through the speakers. I had listened to too much Feeder not to realise that I was listening to Grant Nicholas, yet most people probably wouldn’t notice — the song was so bland.
These days, most of Feeder’s songs sound much the same, and the bad lyrics can’t even be laughed off now. Somewhere along the line Nicholas must have realised that it doesn’t matter how bad the lyrics are — you can still shift records. So his style went in a more cliched and repetitive direction. I’m sure he has had to “cut the ropes around him” at least three different times in his songs. For their latest album, ‘Pushing the Senses’, the lyrics have become plain gibberish at times:
Forever will be
Tumble and fall
What on earth does that mean?
The music is far too polished as well. It might as well be performed by robots. On the Channel 4 programme Grant Nicholas said, “We didn’t use any tape on our last album, which I felt sad about. But you can do so much on Pro Tools these days!” That just sums it up.
Despite the immense length of this post, I have little interest in Feeder now. I haven’t properly been following them for three or four years now, and it will take something big to get me to take notice again. As my friend said to me in HMV, “At least they’re making lots of money.”