For the last four decades, Teenage Fanclub have forged a steady career that’s produced numerous touchstones — records whose influence can still be felt in today’s indie rock. Listening to their latest, Endless Arcade, you can trace aspects of that lineage in some of the songs — there’s a hint of Bandwagonesque’s sugar in “Back in the Day”, some of Songs from Northern Britain’s Britpop on “I’m More Inclined”, and the driving slow-burn of their 2000s output on album opener “Home”.
But the Teenage Fanclub of today never sound like a nostalgia act. Like their contemporaries Dinosaur Jr. and Yo La Tengo, they continue to build their legacy by pushing against the limits of their sound. It’s evident only minutes into the record: while “Home” starts tidy and structured, halfway through Raymond McGinley’s fuzzed-out guitar takes center stage and pushes the song in an unexpected direction, ending only after it’s swelled to an awesome peak.
Most of the time, the growth is lyrical, with songs that reflect the struggles and uncertainties of middle-age: “Everything Is Falling Apart”, “The Sun Won’t Shine on Me”, “The Future”. Still, at its core, Endless Arcade is endlessly optimistic. On “Living With You”, singer Norman Blake acknowledges the world’s gone crazy but only cares about winning back his love. On “Come With Me”, his songwriting partner McGinley suggests everything, even reality, can be avoided so long as he’s got someone by his side. When it’s Teenage Fanclub, even existential crises sound all right.
For all the enjoyably sunny fatalism, though, the absence of vocalist and bassist Gerard Love, who left the band in 2018, is noticeable. Love’s unmistakable falsetto and saccharine hooks added a dynamic to the Fannies that brought a welcome contrast to Blake and McGinley’s songs. Love left the band amicably, citing his desire to tour less, but his absence nonetheless feels at home amid Blake and McGinley’s songs about growing into middle-age. Eventually, even old friends might start to see the world differently.
When I spoke with McGinley earlier this winter, he looked forward to getting back on the road after spending so much time cooped up at home. I asked him about the record’s title track, where he encourages the listener to embrace the endless possibilities in front of them: “Don’t be afraid of this life,” he sings, sounding like someone reflecting on his own mistakes. “Yeah, everything comes to an end,” he told me over the phone as a storm passed by his house in Glasgow. “We’re all going to die. The universe is going to cease to exist.” He chuckled a bit, and I could hear him smile. “Well, so what?”