“The best band in the world” is how Kurt Cobain described Glasgow’s finest after hearing their 1991 landmark, Bandwagonesque. For others, TFC’s rock classicism reeks of retrograde conservatism. In their decade-plus existence, though, these Glaswegians have neither conquered the globe nor become a malign trad rock presence. Instead they’ve evolved into an alternative national institution.
Just check this pristine 21-track pop jukebox. The brilliantly realised Big Star pastiche “The Concept”, “I Need Direction” and its endless flow of hooks and harmonies, or the massive chorus of “About You”?they all show that, when it comes to richly melodic guitar pop, Teenage Fanclub have a 100 per cent strike rate.
It helps that Norman Blake, Gerry Love and Raymond McGinley are such individually strong tunesmiths. Endowed with this much talent, it’s churlish to demand breakbeats or abstract electronica from them. Even at their most ragged and fuzzbox-charged, such as on first single “Everything Flows” and 1991’s “Starsign”, you can’t deny their innate pop sensibility. Here, the influence of Brian Wilson, The Zombies, The Byrds and Big Star doesn’t induce drab mustiness, but a vitality that ensures “What You Do To Me”, “Ain’t That Enough” and “Sparky’s Dream” sound freshly minted.
There’s little here that’s afraid of ambition and mass acceptability. After all, there is a track called “Radio”?precisely where Teenage Fanclub have always wanted, and indeed deserve, to be. Quite simply, it’s a travesty that commercial success has consistently eluded them, even with a record as perfect, and perfectly timed, as 1995’s Grand Prix. And quite why they’re not as sainted as those other classic pop alchemists, The Stone Roses and The La’s, is a mystery, too. Maybe they’re just too nice, too un-fucked-up.
Nevertheless, for Teenage Fanclub’s diehards?indie kids turned couple-bound thirtysomethings?the band make more ‘sense’ than ever. Their heart-on-sleeve romanticism and uncynical love of love resounds with the joys of monogamous bliss. Despite their name, there’s very little about the Fanclub that’s adolescent.
Best news of all is that such goggle-eyed brilliance doesn’t end here. New track “The World’ll Be OK” continues where last year’s Velvets-tinged Words Of Wisdom And Hope left off, while “Empty Space” sees bassist Love refine his knack for silvery, autumnal melancholia.
Their electroclash album, however, will have to wait. For now and forever, it’s five-part harmonies and West Coast smarts all the way. Got a problem with that?