Veterans of the indie scene dating back to a time when the word was an abbreviation for 'independent' rather than a post-Britpop musical genre, the name Teenage Fanclub has become synonymous with the word "consistent". Fashions and trends may come and go, yet since their conception via Glasgow's shambling C86 scene at the tail end of 1989, Teenage Fanclub have retained an effervescent charm even in their darkest hours. Even more remarkable is the fact that despite over 20 years and ten albums worth of music between them, they've somehow managed to stabilize their line-up to the point that three-quarters of their original members - Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley and Gerard Love - still reside in their familiar roles as co-singer/songwriters, guitarists and bass player respectively.
In 2005, Teenage Fanclub sounded weary. And with good reason. The Glaswegian quartet had been shoved aside by two major labels-- first Geffen, then Sony-- and its longtime UK home, Creation Records, closed up shop entirely in 1999. By the time the group's ninth album, Man Made, finally arrived in 2005-- via the bands' own PeMa Records label in the UK and Merge in the U.S.-- is was noticeably unsettled. Each glistening Byrds-inspired harmony masked lyrics that pondered death, impermanence, and regret. "There is more to learn than I've aimed for/ So much under the sun I should play for/ Before I'm taken in," sang bassist Gerard Love, one of the group's three songwriters, on "Time Stops". It was a good record, but coming from a band that built its reputation on sugar sweet power-pop, it was a bit of a downer.
In a music world weakened this year by the untimely loss of Alex Chilton, what better way to celebrate his legacy than with a new album by Teenage Fanclub. Not that they have egregiously copied, but with a discography full of nods to the Big Star icon (2005’s “Feel” being the most recent), novelty isn’t a trait one would readily assign to the veteran Scottish quartet. What they’ve done with Chilton’s combination of power-pop and baroque raw materials, however, has been quite innovative. Both Grand Prix (1995) and Songs from Northern Britian (1997) put the day’s haughty Britpop through Ramones-style rigor and simplicity, while the tour-de-force Bandwagonesque (1991) reminded an American music scene, otherwise consumed by grunge, of the power of sugary sweet hooks and harmony. But with that genre-du-jour of the 90s over with and the “everything goes” attitude of our new millennium upon us, they have found increasingly less to rub up against. So devoid of cultural foil, Teenage Fanclub’s challenge became to survive in these times without contrast.