Sunshine harmonies and chiming guitars: the Scots’ golden period.
The Scots’ golden period repackaged.
BANDWAGONESQUE ★★★★ THIRTEEN ★★ GRAND PRIX ★★★★ SONGS FROM NORTHERN BRITAIN ★★★★
HOWDY! ★★★ SONY, OUT 10 AUGUST When Teenage Fanclub emerged in 1990, their scuzzy, Dinosaur Jr-style noise-rock earned them an ironic reputation as the best American band in Scotland. Soon, they were the most voguish Scottish band in America, pursued by a small army of major record company A&R scouts. Back in Britain, their C86-era Glaswegian heritage (The Vaselines, BMX Bandits, Soup Dragons) made them an ideal fit for Alan McGee’s Creation label. These five reissued albums – each containing a bonus seven-inch single – tell the story of what happened next. It’s a story of chiming guitars, sunshine harmonies, tender ballads and heart-on-sleeve homages, all divvied up democratically between the frontline trio that still leads Teenage Fanclub today: Norman Blake (guitar, vocals), Raymond McGinley (guitar, vocals) and Gerry Love (bass, vocals). Three less calculating individuals it would be difficult to imagine, but the 2011 film Young Adult showed how the Fanclub’s music could break down the emotional defences and get under a generation’s skin. In a key scene, Charlize Theron’s character obsessively replays the song (The Concept, from Bandwagonesque) that reminds her of her highschool boyfriend. Over the decades, Blake, McGinley and Love have written plausibly and plaintively about how to be a man, a boyfriend, a husband, a father. And even if, like Theron in Young Adult, you’re none of the four, the simple, relatable phrases and hooks (“I didn’t want to hurt you, oh yeah”) have a way of infiltrating your dialogical self and haunting your past, present and future. The standout Teenage Fanclub albums are Bandwagonesque ( 1991), Grand Prix ( 1995) and Songs From Northern Britain ( 1997), covering a six-year period
that saw shoegaze and Britpop come and go without leaving a footprint on their proudly Americanised sound. Bandwagonesque, as well as absorbing grunge influences, took as its template the 1970s Memphis power-pop group Big Star, whose dynamic riffs and sweet harmonies had made them cult heroes among the Creation crowd. Utterly smitten, they made parts of Bandwagonesque a flat-out Big Star imitation; spotting their sincerity, US rock journals lauded the album, which remains hugely enjoyable, while fellow musicians (including early-’ 90s tastemaker, Kurt Cobain) fêted the Fanclub from London to Seattle. Grand Prix, a return to form after the disappointingly dreary Thirteen ( 1993), swapped Big Star for The Byrds, roaring out of the speakers like The Bells Of Rhymney catapulted into the Oasis age. It’s the perfect Fanclub album in many ways. All three writers contribute excellent tunes and sensational harmonies, and when you put it all together the emotional scope goes from euphoria (Sparky’s Dream) to melancholia (Mellow Doubt) to comically exasperated selfreproach (Verisimilitude). Blake and McGinley, in particular, have never shied away from admitting how hard they find it to express their true feelings to the ones who need to hear them most. Songs From Northern Britain – produced, like Grand Prix, by the American David Bianco – was another impressive LP, a crunchy, modern Byrdsian rumination on the hazards of romance in the summer of OK Computer and Blair’s Labour landslide. But more than three years elapsed before the next one, the subdued, below-par Howdy!, and the band’s LP release schedule has since slowed to a trickle. A sign, perhaps, that Teenage Fanclub were now thinking of ways to preserve their relationships, rather than poring over them and pining for them in bittersweet song. DAVID CAVANAGH Listen To: The Concept | Star Sign | Gene Clark | Sparky’s Dream | Ain’t That Enough
Teenage kicks: the Fannies’ (from left) Bandwagonesque ( 1991), Thirteen ( 1993), Grand Prix ( 1995), Songs... ( 1997), Howdy! ( 2000).
Teenage Fanclub (from left, Raymond McGinley, Norman Blake, Brendan O’Hare, Gerry Love) in 1992: “their music could break down the emotional defences and get under a generation’s skin.”