I was glad to find out from The Fire Note’s Facebook feed that Teenage Fanclub, whose ’05 masquerade Man-Made I consider just about the upper echelon of twee pop, has another new offering for us this year. Indeed, in terms of this band’s songwriting skill and moxie and the extent to which it’s occupied my mind as something special and exemplary, to see their releases meet with this little fanfare seems entirely criminal.
Above I mention Man-Made as my favorite album by this band and this really stands by a wide margin, too: where some people favor their international breakthrough Bandwagonesque (1991) to be their best work, I just find Man-Made to have songs that are more well-structured and less filled with wasteful or hackneyed strategies and themes. The Fire Note mentions that their sound has “matured” over the years and this is definitely the case, as this is a band that finds their top form in mellow, deliberate rock songs not completely unakin to their UK cohorts Wire and their compelling, soothing acoustic-rock phase we’ve witnessed in that last decade and change.
Also of “Note” was the recent departure from the band of bassist/songwriter/vocalist Gerard Love, hence leaving Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley to shoulder the entirety of the vocals and songwriting duties between the two of them. It almost seems serendipitous, then, that the band encountered a quantitative reduction of their membership, because the ideas and inspiration are here in full force, and all of these songs, even for how mellow and deliberate they are, sidle along with a substantial amount of tension and poignancy, exuding genuineness all the way through. Blake projects like “Home” and “The Sun Won’t Shine on Me” carry some of the best melodies the band has put to wax to date, the latter particularly weaving this impressive tapestry of acute melancholy and desperation, beautifully sublimated in the music.
The real shocker, or prize pig, as I should perhaps say, is the illuminating depth of Raymond McGinley’s lyrics. This spirited processional begins on the title track, which harbors what’s possibly the central message to the album in the chorus of “Don’t be afraid / Of this endless arcade / That is life”. The album’s mid-section, then, unfurls as completely astonishing, with the steady rocker “I’m more inclined” and its startling mantra of “I never found religion / I never needed to / I’m more inclined / To put my faith in you”. This sharp, tuneful gem follows the haunting “In Our Dreams” and the notion that “What we did and what we do / A memory isn’t always true”.
So just to summarize, it’s Norman Blake who writes these pristine jewels of songs that almost seem to embody this hilarious phenomenon of Teenage Fanclub being influenced by a band that they themselves almost surely influenced, which would be Atlas-era Real Estate. Endless Arcade even struts replete with the same sort of deliberate, careful and melodic guitar solos. Raymond McGinley, then, emerges as the sort of town crier of the group, marginally melodic but robustly discursive, and within this yin and yang, it certainly seems this group has found its internal balance to anchor what seems to be an unrelenting mass of inspiration, stemming from their very inception in Scotland in the late ’80s.