Spent a sizeable part of yesterday afternoon grappling again with “The Age Of Adz”, with little progress. It made me think, beyond the Sufjan Stevens album, there have been a good few albums this year, eagerly anticipated by me, that I’ve ended up delicately avoiding talking about here. Big personal disappointments, in other words: The Hold Steady’s “Heaven Is Whenever” and the Black Mountain album, whose title I’ve momentarily forgotten, spring to mind.
I’d also, I think, end up filing “Shadows” by Teenage Fanclub in there: not a crushing disappointment, as such, more a mild, wearying one. It’d be churlish – and hopefully out of character – to criticise a band for growing older and reflecting changes of pace and perspective in their music. But struggling to articulate the frustration, I wish TFC had stuck at trying to be a rock band, rather than settling for being an indie one. That Raymond’s aesthetic hadn’t seemed to triumph over that of Norman and Gerry.
Jonny, it must be said, are an indie band – or rather an indie project of sorts, featuring the Fanclub’s Norman Blake and Euros Childs, a tremendously gifted singer-songwriter who seems to have been bumbling along mostly below the radar since Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci split up. Their album, “Jonny”, is nothing like a return to the crunch of “Bandwagonesque”; if anything, it’s Childs’ musical history that’s referenced much more closely.
It does, though, have a sprightliness, an ease and playfulness about it which comes as a relief after “Shadows”. Childs mostly takes the lead, but while Blake-fronted songs like the folk-rockish “You Was Me” and, especially, the lovely “Circling The Sun” would have fitted onto “Shadows” neatly enough, they seem to have a propulsion and lightness of touch which is, to me at least, much more pleasurable. “Candyfloss”, meanwhile, is an inspired coupling of the two talents – a Gorkys-style verse and a TFC chorus – which works just fine.
Nevertheless, it’s Childs’ voice and vision which dominates “Jonny”, revisiting the stylistic highpoints of his old band as if guided by the gentle encouragement of Blake to do what he does best. Hence there are slightly dazed country songs – “I’ll Make Her My Best Friend”, “English Lady” – which recapture the somewhat autumnal whimsy of late Gorkys.
There are daft glam songs which sound like the themes to ‘70s children’s programmes: “Wich Is Wich” and “Cave Dance”, the latter running off into a long and burbling drone-out which imbalances the whole album in a likeably perverse way. Best of all, the surging “Goldmine” and the prancing falsetto piano piece, “Bread”, sound like they could have been made around the same time as “The Game Of Eyes” and “Miss Trudy”.
A very comforting album, really, and even the “Rubber Soul” pastiche, “Waiting Around For You” works perfectly, to the extent I keep expecting them to sing “Beep beep yeah” at any moment.