Teenage Fanclub: Howdy

Steve Lichtenstein

Teenage Fanclub


Label: Thirsty Ear
US Release Date: 2001-12-18
UK Release Date: 2000-10-23

You can't blame Teenage Fanclub for trying. In fact, they should be commended for their unflappable stick-to-itiveness. After a slew of albums (six, to be exact) that swam in the soothing waters of pop, and a shot at stardom with a Saturday Night Live appearance and an opening slot on Nirvana's 1992 tour, they had all of the cult following and some critical acclaim to back up their fine output. They entered the scene at grunge's embryonic stage, and then suffered through years of neglect as that sound hit its height and faded away about as completely as smoke stench in flannel. They survived the radio "pop" of the late nineties, through all its galvanized forms and pretenses. And they've emerged again from an absence no one's really noticed to deliver Howdy, another textbook piece of classic, hard-to-ignore pop. It's nothing that's going to redefine the band in the minds of anyone, or attract legions of new hard-core fans, but it's a fine piece of power-pop, nonetheless.

One of the drawbacks of being associated with the classic rock/pop hybrids that so often show up in music reviews (the Byrds, Big Star, the Beatles) is that it's often hard to develop an identity, not only outside of those bands, but also apart from the current bands those hallmark groups are compared with: recent Wilco, Fountains of Wayne, anything in the same breath with Elephant 6 -- the new classic pop bands. Because face it, a bouncy melody, semi-fancy guitar licks, a passable rhythm section, and some lyrics that introduce "baby"s, "yeah"s, and a "na-na" chorus is all it really takes to be thrown in that category. It can be a dime a dozen world, but only a few of those dimes really shine.

Teenage Fanclub is one of them. Songs like opener "I Need Direction", with its rolling melody, and "Near You" sound like they came from a mix tape an older brother had from '82. Like most of the songs on Howdy, they're fresh, but you seem to know the words instantly, producing a weird, first-impression nostalgia, a comfort level that bands like Wilco produce so effortlessly.

But this isn't pop in an over-the-top, saccharin overload sort of way. There's a layer of wax that covers some songs here, like the crunchy jangle of "Dumb, Dumb, Dumb", the album's standout and most high-volume-worthy track, which adds a rougher, more jagged exterior to the otherwise blinding sheen. At times the songs breathe a bit like the current crop of popular singer-songwriters, those of the John Mayer and Pete Yorn ilk.

All of this is good, very good, and, if nothing else, Howdy is a reminder that good pop music will always have an outlet, regardless of the changing face of the rest of the industry. Deep down, everyone wants to be humming something and tapping hand to knee, a "na-na" chorus just two bars away, car windows open, speeding just a little. And to those people that want to get it right, Howdy.

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.