Release Date: Sep 9, 2016
Record label: Merge
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Like a single-word mantra, Teenage Fanclub's tenth studio album, 2016's Here, is a ruminative, inward-looking album of folk-inflected beauty. Once the '90s poster children for grungy sweet, '70s-style rock melodicism, the Scottish outfit centered on singer/songwriters Norman Blake, Gerard Love, and Raymond McGinley has aged into a bittersweet, poetically nuanced entity as connected to its roots as a gorgeously gnarled oak on a stark hillside. Produced by the band in France and at McGinley's home in Glasgow, Here has a soft, organic quality that feels unfussed with.
If, as the cliché goes, familiarity breeds contempt, we should hate Teenage Fanclub. Factor in their well-documented niceness, and we should abso-bloody-lutely despise them. Teenage Fanclub: the classic tunesmiths who never fly too far from their Byrds/Big Star nest. Teenage Fanclub: the trio of songwriters who always democratically divvy up their album’s 12 tracks.
Teenage Fanclub may feel like a comfortable pair of well worn shoes, but it’s remarkable how infrequently they have recorded since the disintegration of Creation Records. With the band now scattered across both sides of the Atlantic (Norman Blake lives in Toronto), assembling the group is a logistical as well as artistic enterprise. Yet here they are again, returning with their third independently released album and still inspiring devotion in their loyal audience.
Let’s be honest, there’s precious little left to be said about Teenage Fanclub. Unless they have a surprise reinvention as cutting-edge trap producers – and I can state with some confidence that Here is not that record – you know pretty much what you’ll be getting by now: there will be softly strummed guitars, there will be gorgeous harmonies, and there will be no need whatsoever for anyone to print out parental advisory stickers. It’s been several albums now since the Scottish band’s knack for crafting heart-tugging melodies truly peaked with Grand Prix and Songs from Northern Britain.
It hardly feels like six years since Teenage Fanclub released Shadows, an album that demonstrated just why the band are still held in such high regard as the elder statesmen of indie-pop. In the interim period, the main constituent members of group have spent their time going down different musical paths, with Gerard Love releasing an album under the Lightships moniker, Raymond McGinley joining folk-rock band Snowgoose, and Norman Blake recording a wonderfully bonkers album with Euro Childs under the name Jonny, among other things. Now the band have reconvened for their tenth studio album, the rather understatedly titled Here, and anyone worried that their musical sojourns will result in something unfamiliar will have nothing to fear with what’s on offer, for Here is a very comfortable record indeed.
Now almost 30 years old as a band, Teenage Fanclub's consistency and longevity can sometimes work against them. With a vast, high-quality body of work spanning multiple decades, some have a tendency to overlook the Scottish band's more recent work; early records are lauded and canonized while equally strong later records don't always get a fair shake. But for any serious power-pop fans out there, a piece of advice: ignore new Teenage Fanclub material at your peril.
For a while it looked like we’d heard the last of Teenage Fanclub. Shadows, released at the onset of their third decade together, found the band 'waiting for the troubled days to end' over gentle acoustic strumming and wistful pedal steel, betraying a melancholic sense of finality that’s only grown in the six years since. Self-assured and achingly pretty, it had the hallmarks of a typically modest send-off from a group who, while their grunge-era peers have been busy launching increasingly dubious comebacks, have quietly sustained one of the most consistent careers in pop music.
When Teenage Fanclub broke in 1991 with their third album Bandwagonesque, they were a band deeply of their time. The Scottish quintet was at once noisy enough to stand among trendsetters like Dinosaur Jr. and My Bloody Valentine, and melodic enough to fit seamlessly on post-“Alex Chilton,” Chilton-indebted college radio. The band’s zeitgeist-capturing breakthrough actually posed a threat to Nirvana come list-making season.
Teenage Fanclub takes its time. The band took five years between 2000’s Howdy! and their first album for Merge Records, 2005’s Man-Made, then another five years before 2010’s Shadows. And now, six years later, Teenage Fanclub is back with Here. But there’s something in the band’s sheer consistency, and the way their sound seems more timeless with each passing year—Bandwagonesque, once tied indelibly to the grunge boom, feels just as fresh now as ever—that suggests time between records doesn’t matter.
Tenth album from Scottish jangle-rock veterans Of the two surviving Creation bands, Primal Scream are addicted to change, whereas Teenage Fanclub are endlessly consistent (My Bloody Valentine, for whom hiatus is a semi-permanent state, don’t count). They’re the Big Star who didn’t get ruined by drugs or reach their Sister Lovers stage and instead kept making their #1 Record. Yes, they had their moment – 1991’s Bandwagonesque was famously album of the year in Spin, ahead of Nevermind – but their 27-year career hasn’t been about peaks and troughs but maintaining a steady path.
Teenage Fanclub have enjoyed a near thirty year-career as one of Britain’s go to powerpop exports - having found success with modern classics ‘Bandwagonesque’ and ‘Grand Prix’ through the nineties, the group have delivered with consistent quality since. 2005’s ‘Shadows’ was another bright reminder of their songwriting chops - and over ten years on, it still show no signs of waning. ‘Here’ finds each member at a matured yet no less tender-hearted chapter in their lives.
The lyrics to the new Teenage Fanclub record should sound familiar to anyone who's sat through a screed of well-meaning but unsolicited advice from an older uncle. It's a trap recent Hold Steady records have also fallen into—rather than imparting perspective through clever storytelling or interpretative lyric, the songs just tell the listener point-blank what's important. Consider "Hold On," which repeats rhymed variations of the mantra "hold on to your life, to your dreams/don't get lost in their schemes/just hold on to your dreams," before concluding "simple pleasures are all we need.
If you fall for Teenage Fanclub, you fall hard. The Caledonian quartet has spread its influence wide for more than a quarter of a century, traversing genres and musical eras with ease whilst consistently producing the most perfectly crafted, harmony-laden guitar-pop imaginable. Here is The Fannies' tenth album, and it's quite possibly their finest. It's been six years since Shadows and its worries of war, creeping 'Dark Clouds' and folk-tinged romance.
Six years is the longest Scottish indie pop heroes Teenage Fanclub have ever kept their fans waiting for a new album. That would kill the average Frank Ocean fan, but when it comes to a new Fannies album, their supporters know that it just means the wait will be worth it. The reason for the delay is that each member was busy working on other projects.
2016 is a turbulent age in which heroes fall and zeroes prevail. In moments like these we need areas of stability, familiarity through things that remain the same, untainted by time. This is where Teenage Fanclub come in. Long term fans will know the drill thoroughly by now; three songwriters, four songs each, and an overly long gap between each album.
Teenage Fanclub—Here (Merge)If there’s a lyrical theme to Here, it’s diminished expectations. Across 12 songs and three different songwriters, the main idea is being happy to still be around, getting comfortable with what’s left and finding joy in the people next to you. It’s a theme that comes with maturity, obviously. After 27 years as scrabbling, struggling musicians, the members of Teenage Fanclub have found serenity – and good for them.