The band thanks Wilco for the loan of the guitar in its liner notes. Looking at the album cover and artwork you would think Teenage Fanclub are intent on making their own Yankee Hotel Foxtrot. But you won’t find any drawn out instrumentals or spacey, experimental rock here. The Scottish band are 15 years into its career and know no other way to get people listening than to make great, timeless, brilliant pop tunes that aren’t the sappy, summery, Californian pop styles several groups on this side of the big puddle of water often make. Think of Robert Pollard’s mellow moments with Guided By Voices and this is what Teenage Fanclub excel at, making it into an art form. And this album is no different. If you love 4/4 time pop, this is for you. If you don’t, you’ll be converted.
The degree to which Teenage Fanclub have excelled at this sound is found from start to finish on the record - the sweet melodies, the sweeter harmonies and the almost non man-made precision they exemplify on picture-perfect “It’s All In My Mind” as the give-and-take harmonies fuse on the title lyric, starting off with a rock solid backbeat and letting the guitars fall beneath the track most of the time. Listening to this makes the head go from left to right and one of the two lower limbs keep time with the constant tapping of the cymbal. It doesn’t build, doesn’t go south but keeps an even keel that is too often under-utilized these days. It tends to get a tad spacey the further it goes but nothing that would turn you off on the ditty. The Big Star comparisons aside, this is an extremely strong and glistening catalyst for what later comes.
“Time Stops” packs a great deal of, how shall I call it, wallop. Yes, that’s it, wallop. The arrangement here is basically “let’s build it up for the infectious chorus shall we?” and they do in spades with a harmony that sounds a bit like Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. Think of Michael Penn wanting to write a large bombastic rock record and he might start here. The guitars ring out and flesh out the track although there is a lush, orchestral tinge to it courtesy of John McCusker on violin and viola. “Nowhere” is aptly dubbed however as it comes off a bit aimless and sullen, not exactly a parody of themselves but there is no tangible bite to the tune. “I love this life and all I’ve known,” they sing before it goes off into a quasi-Santana psychedelic inspired bridge. “Save” is sugar-coated almost too much yet McCusker’s contribution to this song is invaluable. Steady as she goes, the album by now is in a little bit of a rut, but a rut other groups would kill for.
From there we go back to the up-tempo bright pop of “Slow Fade” that has some twists and turns that the listener easily glides into. Norman Blake and Gerard Love, who along with Raymond McGinley contributed four songs each, are well-oiled on this tune with a lot of intensity and urgency heard in the fills. McGinley’s tunes tend to be the album’s yin to its generally up-tempo yang, particularly on the piano-fuelled melancholic “Only With You”. The oddest or perhaps black sheep of the album is the acoustic folk pop that oozes out of “Cells”, bringing to mind Canadian pop band The Grapes of Wrath circa “All The Things I Wasn’t”. “Feel” again pulls the album up by its bootstraps with a highly melodic Byrds-meets-Petty-meets-Sweet format. Here they nail the song without sounding as if they’re simply going through the motions.
Teenage Fanclub are one of the few bands that can also throw you the musical equivalent of a slider midstream without the blink of an eye. “Fallen Years” for example has that light, airy feel and could go off the rails quickly yet they simply crank up a guitar in the chorus that kicks it into a higher, crowd pleasing gear. And when you think they’ve gone too far into the dark side, ergo the soft side of pop, they return with their own rollicking pop nugget “Born Under a Good Sign” which features some fine guitar work resembling Boz Boorer’s work with Morrissey. They seem to be aging gracefully, but this work only adds to the luster of a group who will always appease themselves and their loyal fanclub, some of whom are probably teenagers.
// Notes from the Road
"On release day for their latest Big Mess, Grouplove packed Baby's in Brooklyn for a sweaty show.READ the article