Completely serious here: Feelin’ Groovy is a radical album. Super-short, super-sweet, and uncompromising in its embrace of the cutesy and fey, there’s not a shred of irony or snark to be found among the oboes and bassoons and strings and clarinets and how in the world did they cram so many instruments in without sacrificing the airiness? Even in 1967, no less, they don’t hedge their twee bets with drug innuendos or trippy effects; the group is content to sing about dreams, balls, dreams, rugs, dreams, dancing bears, and more dreams. And I’m happy to let choirboy proceedings and “good clean fun” whisk me away to a total paradigm shift.
Really, though. The number of times I break into a grin and flail my hands at how adorable everything is can’t be counted. The little giggle before “Simon Smith”‘s final note, the delivery of “Happy Talk”‘s “you gotta have a dream” line—it’s all an absolute delight.
I get that Harpers Bizarre likes show tunes and trad pop; Feelin’ Groovy had ’em sprinkled in as part of the daydream and I still think it’s one of the decade’s finest albums. But for them to center their follow-up around the styles, well, I had my doubts. I’ve never been keen on the genres, so I feared the group would lose themselves in arm-flapping bombast. It was a pleasant surprise to discover, then, that the first half of this LP is fairly enjoyable—especially the title track, where Harpers’ bobbing hush lends a welcome delicacy to the well-worn standard.
Starting around “Chattanooga Choo Choo”, though, the weaknesses grow too prominent to ignore. In the migration to horn-heavy arrangements, the group stayed put with their typically plush vocals, so more often than not they’re drowned out by punchy trumpets and strings. The same issues arises when they try on a banjo-led hoedown, too (“Virginia City”).
I’m happy Anything Goes isn’t a flop like I anticipated, but Harpers really didn’t choose a sound in keeping with their strengths.
After a prolonged period of bewildered mourning, I think I finally found a way to articulate my total disappointment with Secret Life. When their voices are no longer as pungent a sweetener and they eschew childlike fantasy for more worldly yearnings, Harpers Bizarre become timid emblems of mainstream post-war culture—possibly the closest thing to an aesthetic enemy for me.
Even if it means restating the sizable debt Harpers owe to Simon & Garfunkel (“Leaving on a Jet Plane”), I’m happy to see the group drop their crippling fixation on the past. None of this approaches the candied brilliance of their debut (how could it?), but simply hearing those voices over gentler, less woozy arrangements is enough proof they made the right call. And it’s not like they’re stagnating; though “Knock on Wood”‘s tranquil reinvention makes for mostly conceptual pleasure, it’s still a rather radical paean to meekness. (Not to mention “Witchi Tai To” anticipating The Beach Boys’ “Feel Flows” by a good two years.)