I can only surmise about the history of Sneaky Feelings in the early 80s but it seems that three years after their wonderful eight song EP Send You, Flying Nun decided to let the world in on Dunedin’s best kept secret by putting together a compilation to be released in England, Germany and Australia. Waiting For Touchdown comprises six songs from Send You (1983), three from the 12” single Husband House (1985) and two from the 12” single Better Than Before (1986). I’ve already written about the Send You songs in an earlier blog post, and because these are the exact same versions, I shall (for the most part) simply cut and paste my song commentaries into this post. The point is that despite the 1986 release date, the majority of tracks here date back at least three years—the recorded versions that is. This is good for me because I don’t buy 12” or 7” singles and the five new tracks here are all well worth hearing.
Better Than Before… is a pure blast of harmonized jangly guitar pop. “I woke up from a dream I wanted to ignore / Looked around, went back to sleep / Now I don’t know why / But it’s better than it was before.” Drum fill launches the song proper. “Every Sunday night at ten / We’d sit and watch the music show end / And we’d discuss just how it was / That they got on instead of us.” Wonderful rhythmic timing in these lines. Seems to be in part, a song about their lack of success. “Life’s like a game of chess” says the singer, who must “face up to the facts.” And in the instrumental break we get pretty vibes. The chorus is a rising note of pure optimism. Then we get this melody that sounds like pure New Order: “Sometimes I get upset / When you say you’ve got no place to rest / And that you say your life’s a mess / Why put on, you’re only faking.” And if I had to pick the New Order song this sounds like I’d say “True Faith,” which came out in 1987, begging the question: did New Order rip off Sneaky Feelings!?
Waiting For Touchdown… also opens with a fairly jangly guitar line soon joined by soft rhythm guitar, bass, drums and David Pine’s wonderfully nasally vocal (almost a sneer), although I’m not always sure with this band whose voice belongs to who. This is a slow burner about catching up with an old friend/lover, the lyrics full of anticipation: “…but I hear you calling / Softly from the clouds / Softly …. / If you stay / I’d be the one … It’s strange but looking over it’s nice to see that you’ve grown older / But will you be there when the nights get colder? / It’s a lovely thing to see / See you here but free / Waiting for touchdown / I can’t ignore my fear / Dreams must disappear / Waiting for touchdown / Did you look? X 3 / Did you? / Well don’t come here, no / I’ll be there.” Then we get a simple single guitar line ringing out loudly before the harmonizing starts up, one of the best features of Sneaky Feelings songs. The song teases, sort of builds without ever quite soaring to the heights it hints at, and that’s its main strength—to remain understated. The rhythm is a slow swinging kind of thing. Seems the singer is holding his breath – will she be arriving for him?
Someone Else’s Eyes… brings the speed, the distortion, the rock beat. Bannister’s (?) vocals are more buried, harder to discern specific words, but again, it sounds like deep relationship-analysis stuff. The song slowly builds with its forward momentum. Again, more relationship angst: “We could wait forever if you’ve got the time / We could try to be clever / If it’s not a crime,” and the chorus: “I can feel you talking … [something] / Would you ever show me / If I asked to see?” and then this lovely falsetto chorus: “Let me see the way we are through someone else’s eyes.” The verse parts sound like fairly regular indie-rock fare – it’s the chorus that has you singing along, and again, towards the end the harmonizing starts up, which is starting to sound like a Sneaky Feelings staple. The English band Ride would use a similar kind of flatted ‘ahh’ harmonizing on their Nowhere album in 1990. Another enjoyable number.
Strangers Again… is slow, more soulful, Bannister on vocals again, same theme: “We’re strangers again / How does it happen after all the time we spent? / Strangers again / Now we’re waiting for our time to come again / Strangers again / Facing the sad sunrise / Rising / Rising/ Don’t let go of my hand / Don’t try to freeze me / Don’t let go of my hand / I want you to seize me / We’re lovers again / When it happens I don’t want to pretend.” The guitar work is pointillistic and spidery during the verses, and after the second round of chorus we get some lovely “oooh ooooh” parts. “Let’s spend some time together / Not seeking pain or pleasure.” The bass line is slower and stealthy. Very melodic. Awesome stuff. It reminds me of those times, early 20s when you haven’t seen your girlfriend for a few months,and when you get together there’s that period of learning to feel comfortable again. This is the very definition of ‘slow burner.’ It’s all kind of lo-fi and a little tinny, but that’s what makes it great. Imagine how this would sound if it’d been written and performed in the 80s by an American band on Sony—ugh!
Wouldn’t Cry… is an upbeat, lighter affair, country-style. “Since I let you go / I haven’t given you much thought / Except I’d like to let you know / That I wouldn’t cry / I wouldn’t cry / I wouldn’t cry no more.” Her friends offer him sympathy in case he’s feeling hurt. However, despite his protests, I can’t detect any 10CC “I’m Not In Love”-type irony or Flight of the Conchords satire (“I’m not crying / It’s just been raining … on my face”). Love all the pedal steel in this. A bona-fide Dunedin jangle band doing country on Flying Nun! Brilliant. The song is nice enough, doesn’t quite have the impact of their heavier stuff, but the form suits the lyrics well. Vocally it sounds not a million miles from a crooner hit of the 50s.
Not To Take Sides… an up/down jangle-strum and another dissection of what?—a love triangle this time. “It’s just I’m never ever sure / Whether you (I?) mean to be that way / It’s just that we’ve grown so far away / From each other / Time was when people thought we were brothers / Ahhhhh,” and this leads to the beautifully rising chorus, “You’re so strong you overcome me / With your words I wonder if you’re hiding / Always try to defend you / Always try / Not to take sides.” The pace is stately, the music all in support of the incredible vocal melody, Bannister/ Pine (not sure who) really reaching for something quite magnificent. “I’m never ever really ever sure if it’s you or me” – love that line, sums up my life’s worth of personal relationships pretty well. Lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ here too, then a climbing guitar line in the break, some heavier guitar chords, a riff that would end up in the superb “The Heater” by the Muttonbirds in 1994, and a multi-part vocal. It’s sad to think that songs like this get left behind in the history of music. This is the kind of the thing that if it had been released now, may well get an idiotic 8.9 on Pitchfork’s Best New Music and probably sell a truck-load. Again, this burns so slow it smoulders.
Throwing Stones… is also electric-jangly, jaunty rhythm, but with a solid backbone and a solid chorus: “Must be easy / With all your friends … You’re certainly one over them.” Nice line—plays on the pun of “won over them.” And then “the victim is this week’s friend / The person to be seen with / Never to be seen again … / But you’re so cold-blooded / You hate with a passion / Nothing to do with anyone else / And the things which you say / Are not what’s happened / You hate with a passion / Nothing to do with anyone else.” And something weird here—somehow the jangly guitar creates its own interphases (or it could be voices mixed low) but somehow there’s a faint harmonizing sound before the actual “ahh” stuff kicks in. The (sneaky) feelings in these songs are all mixed up with envy and jealousy, the petty stuff but aptly de-trivialized into something quite real and momentous. Meanwhile the guitar parts drive on, a chugging jangle keeping the tension high throughout the song, but when the rest of the band start harmonizing with Pine the song moves into a higher realm. “And the victim is this week’s friend.” Damn, this has such great melodic potency as well as an unpredictable feel. If this is David Pine on vocals, then I prefer his singing. His voice has more snarl, more bitterness, more nose.
Major Barbara… starts off all trippy 60s Beach Boys/Beatles psychedelic with a lovely verse sung in two or three part harmony, all hitting a high note. The music is strummed acoustic guitar and what sounds like flute though may be a synthesizer. “Doesn’t seem to make sense / The jury is convicted on its lack of evidence.” Then we get a keyboard part, piano. No drums or bass from what I can tell. The whole song sort of rides on this wave of fragility. Aerosmith also have a song called “Major Barbara” which is the title of a 1900s play by George Bernard Shaw. Didn’t catch enough lyrics to know if it relates.
The Strange And Conflicting Feelings Of Separation And Betrayal… a Pine vocal again. Good momentum here, makes a nice take-off after the previous song. Pretty keyboard line adding a melodic line through the back of the song, and some “la la / la la la la la la la” interludes before a sixties kind of electric guitar line rings in behind the voices. Pace is quite quick. Nice guitar song with a mild tune that turns in places almost as if to avoid becoming too poppy…
Husband House… whereas this is gorgeous pure pop. “It’s been a long time since I’ve been back home / Where I feel unloved / Life round here means / You must try to be / Hard and strong / One day when I want to settle down / I’ll go there / Up to husband house / I’ll leave my friends behind / But it’s always fun to stay here now.” So, a song about whether to marry or not to marry? Good question. Seasons change, the wind blows cold from the south and he’s “not sure what I wanted from you / But I think it’s time we found out.” There’s a cello part in here that makes the song, just beautiful, as is the vocal melody. It has a lighter feel, but I like how the guitar is played sort of percussively, like a note that vibrates downward. Then we get a distorted break and some lightly soaring lead guitar melodies taking the song out on a high pensive note. Superb stuff.
Won’t Change… on Send You this song seemed to exist as a continuation of the one before it—“P.I.T Song,” so it’s strange hearing it here as a standalone number. It starts off with a kind of spy theme type bass line, like part-menace and part-mystery. Distorted jarring guitars stab at the melody, keeping with the theme of the song—a guy trying to hold onto something that seems to be slipping away. The tune is brilliant. One of my favourite Sneaky songs fullstop. The thing builds into sheer ringing intensity but every time it verges on complete meltdown, they find a new way out, changing pace into something new and funky, with those ringing two chord parts that remind me a little of Interpol, and then the whole thing starts racing at three times the pace. What an incredible song. This is mindblowing. The chorus comes back in. “Won’t change the way I feel about you / I won’t change. … Sometimes when you look away … really puts the fear in me.” Great way to end the LP.
It’s taken me a while to realise that Sneaky Feelings were one of New Zealand’s best indie bands ever. Seems I’ve arrived way too late for the party, but hey, they were three or four years before my time and seemed to have disbanded sometime in my early university years just as I was discovering my first Flying Nun band, The 3Ds. Original Sneaky Feeling Kat Tyrie had left the band by this stage and was replaced by John Kelcher. There were trumpets and horns in here too, on some of the newer songs. In the same year this compilation came out, Sneaky Feelings released a new album, Sentimental Education.