After Felt recorded two epic albums on which Lawrence delved deeply into his darkest feelings and surrounded them with majestic guitars and sweeping melodies (1986's Forever Breathes the Lonely Word and 1987's Poem of the River), then one where the band let loose with some of its most straightforward and poppy songs (1988's The Pictorial Jackson Review), it was clearly time for something different.
Taking a cue from the instrumental half of Pictorial, their second album of 1988 is cocktail jazz, dreamy easy listening, and lovely piano ballads. Lawrence doesn't even appear on Train Above the City, though he named all the songs and was in the studio to provide guidance. Instead, Martin Duffy and Gary Ainge handle all the music-making, the latter on drums and vibes and the former on electric and acoustic piano and vibes.
They serve up tunes that are totally out of step with anything going on in 1988, unless you were in an out-of-the-way jazz club. Duffy proves to have an unerring way with a melody and his fingers are certainly nimble, as he had proved on the albums that preceded this. Ainge's drumming is polite and snappy on the few uptempo tracks like "Press Softly on the Brakes Holly" and "Run Chico Run," and the pair know their way around a vibraphone. They are also crack hands at creating lovely atmospheres; "Spectral Morning" is an achingly pretty song that sounds like the soundtrack to wistful heartbreak, "Book of Swords" is lilting and heartwarming, and "Seahorses on Broadway" is another crystalline piece that at this point in his career Duffy probably could have cranked out in his dreams.
Train Above the City isn't really a Felt album, but in some ways it's also the quintessential Felt album in that it shows just how far Lawrence would go to follow his artistic vision. Fans of the band's jangling pop or detached post-punk sounds might never put this record on, but anyone who truly appreciates Lawrence's gift for perverse pop gestures will likely give it a spin every now and then as a gentle reminder.
A1 Train Above The City 3:02
A2 On Weegee's Sidewalk 3:35
A3 Run Chico Run 2:29
A4 Press Softly On The Brakes Holly 2:28
B1 Spectral Morning 3:40
B2 Teargardens 2:54
B3 Book Of Swords 2:18
B4 Seahorses On Broadway 6:35