Teenage Fanclub have a very odd profile in the U.S.
Their debut, 1990’s A Catholic Education, didn’t really do anything in the
States except score them critical kudos (it was released on Matador, who’d only
just gotten started as a label at the time), but when DGC – Geffen’s uber-cool
subsidiary label – released Bandwagonesque in 1991, the Fannies must’ve thought
they were going to be set for life. Mainstream America was introduced to the
band via an appearance on “Saturday Night Live,” but the factoid about that era
that probably still hangs around the band’s neck even now is that, amongst
competition like R.E.M.’s Out of Time, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, and even
Nirvana’s Nevermind, Spin declared Bandwagonesque their album of the year.
That, however, was pretty much the end of Teenage Fanclub’s commercial success
on these shores. (Critics of Spin will be unsurprised to learn that, in their
typical backpedaling fashion, their July 2005 issue lists the 100 Greatest
Albums released from 1985 to present...and Bandwagonesque is MIA.) They might be
some of Scotland’s favorite sons (they may have to fight with Del Amitri for
sole ownership of the title), but, here, they can’t get arrested. Actually, they
probably can get arrested...but, unless the cops were really hip in college,
they probably can’t get the charges dismissed. (“Hey, officer, don’t you know
me? I’m Norman Blake! I wrote ‘The Concept,’ you know?” “Wow, I thought I
recognized those dulcet tones! Alright, you guys get out of here...but watch it
next time, huh?”)
Fear not, though: a decade and a half on from their debut, the Fannies still
have a devoted legion of fans, many of whom are fellow musicians. (Not Lame
Records put out a tribute to the band in 2004 called What A Concept.) And,
besides, anyone who’s followed the group’s career can’t be terribly surprised
that they haven’t consistently shifted mass units...because, if nothing else, Man-Made, the band’s 2005 release, re-confirms one absolute certainty:
No matter who’s twiddling the knobs for the group – and this time, it’s John
McEntire, frontman for Tortoise – Teenage Fanclub are always gonna sound pretty
much the same.
This is somewhat surprising, given that the band has three very solid
songwriters in Norman Blake, Gerard Love, and Raymond McGinley. All three,
however, draw influence from the same pool of artists, most of which start with
a “B” (the Byrds, Big Star...you get the picture), so songs are oftentimes
interchangeable from writer to writer.
Rickenbackers flourish throughout most every song as per usual, though a
particular highlight of the album comes via the ‘70s-tinged “Save,” with violin
and viola courtesy of John McCusker. (McCusker’s fame came as a member of the
Battlefield Band, but he’s contributed to Teenage Fanclub albums as far back as
1993’s Thirteen.) “Slow Fade” is a jet-propelled pop song that could easily be a
single even in this jaded old country of ours, but if you’re in search of the
song that will, as it begins to play on your stereo, cause you to point
accusingly at anyone sitting nearby and say, “Now this, my friend, is why I love
Teenage Fanclub,” seek out “Fallen Leaves” post-haste.
Artistic growth? Nah. Solid pop songs to keep the summer alive? Well, duh.