What do you do when you have three songwriters in a band, and not just any songwriters in not just any band? We’re talking the three accomplished sunny-pop craftsmen from the Scottish masterminds Teenage Fanclub. Well, what do you do? I guess you record twelve well-crafted tunes and split writing duties up into thirds. This is exactly what Fanclubbers Norman Blake, Gerard Love and Raymond McGinley did on their album five years in the waiting, Man-Made, and what they have done for years on previous albums. Man-Made is Teenage Fanclub’s eighth proper full-length and the first to be recorded in the states, namely Chicago, and helmed by John McEntire of Tortoise.
So now that we’ve answered one question, here’s another. What are we supposed to expect from Teenage Fanclub after a five year hiatus? After all, this is the band that Spin awarded `album of the year’ to in 1991 over Nirvana, My Bloody Valentine, and R.E.M.! Well, I didn’t know what to expect, but what I ended up with, upon listening to the album, is that I couldn’t stop. I wanted to listen to the album over and over again, with its Byrds-like guitars, fuzz bass, and dreamy vocals. (Here’s a little interesting tidbit: the band didn’t have an acoustic guitar on hand for the recording as they had a baggage limit for their flight to Chicago, so they simply asked neighbor Jeff Tweedy for a loaner).
Blake’s “It’s All In My Mind” and Love’s “Time Stops” kick the album off with brilliant clarity and tight harmonies. Love’s songs seem the strongest on the album, especially the Travis-like “Save,” with similarities also to Ian Broudie’s Lightning Seeds and fellow Scot Roddy Frame’s Aztec Camera, and “Fallen Leaves,” a similarly catchy and pleasure drenched song. It is Love’s “Born Under a Good Sign” which could have been mistaken for a song either by the Byrds, Classic IV, or the Zombies. Blake scores another great song with his “Cells” while McGinley throws his hat in the ring with his best contribution, “Only With You,” which happens to feature John McEntire on piano.
After the mess with Sony, Geffen and Creation records, it’s nice to know that people in the states, including McEntire and the folks at Merge records are taking care of such a great band. I have fond memories of listening to Bandwagonesque back in 1991 and now fourteen years later, I’m creating new memories with songwriting that is still as fresh, as strong and as relevant as it was then. All of the Fannie fans (I love that the Brits call them that considering what it means over there) can now stop listening to the bad imitators like the Thrills and return to the glory that is Teenage Fanclub.