Though they were often classified as jangle pop -- grouped in with other bands of their era like R.E.M., the dBs, and the Feelies
-- in their early days the Neats
did not so much jangle with their clean guitars as they created ebbing and flowing squalls and cascades of strumming. Their use of minor keys and chiming single-string guitar lines, as well as their long musical interludes consisting of multiple climaxes and single-chord droning -- shying away from straight guitar soloing -- had more in common with British act Echo & the Bunnymen as well as paisley underground groups like Dream Syndicate and New Zealand bands on the Flying Nun label like the Verlaines and the Clean. The Neats
were closely identified with Boston's college rock scene, and their junior English lit. student sense of brooding is akin to the reverence their contemporaries in Echo & the Bunnymen had for romantic poets and Leonard Cohen. The Neats (1983) was the first full-length album from the band. Produced by Rick Harte for his Ace of Hearts label, there is a distinct mid-'60s garage feel to the recording, though not as directly garage rock as their labelmates the Lyres. The Neats
show flashes of the more Baroque sounds of groups like the Left Banke, and even a little of the reverb-y blues of the early Rolling Stones; "Do the Things" even features a blues harp rave-up, and one can detect a bit of "Paint It Black" in the album's closer, "Water," which -- as with "A.B.D." (Another Broken Dream) and "Caraboo" -- reaches another droning climax. But the standout tracks are songs like the opening "Sad," "Now You Know," and "Ghost," folky pop songs with a certain melancholy tinge. Though the album as a whole could be called dark, these songs are more personal sounding, with a bit of the self-pity and sensitive-guy sorrow that always finds an audience with literature and art students. Fans of Belle & Sebastian would be well-advised to try to track down this album for a bit of precedence. "Sweeping sideways through the sidewalks in my mind/Making thoughts of how to say goodbye/Things that made me think once made me think two times/If you don't know how or I know why," sings Eric Martin
in "Now You Know," a song that sounds like a link in the same Boston music chain that joined Mission of Burma and Moving Targets, and could very well have been a Hüsker Dü song if played with blazing instead of chiming clean guitars. The same goes for the cold and alienated loneliness of "Sad": "All alone almost every day/And though she hopes it's only for a while/And when you look at her she seems so far away/Hiding all her secrets with a smile/And if you know the truth she holds far away and hardly real/I think I can understand 'cause I know how it feels/To be sad." Martin was capable of some sharply evocative images, as with "Ghost": "Look through me 'cause I'm the past/Something in a photograph/Look through me and watch me fade/As you turn another page/Now and then can never rhyme/I'll stay away all the time." The melody and chorus of this song is actually quite similar to something the early Go-Go's would have done -- though it is likely the girl group would not have sounded so ruminative.