It’s fair to say that some bands find the sound that works for them and keep on keeping on with that same sound, releasing numerous albums with a similar feel. Think Eels, M.Ward and The Magnetic Fields, for example. All are responsible for many wonderful albums, but at least part of our love for some of those records is the endearing familiarity. So, I suspect, it is with Teenage Fanclub. There are two groups of people when it comes to this band: Those who love Teenage Fanclub and those who haven’t heard them. I forever peddle a paraphrased quote from Nick Hornby about how wonderful this lot are so now might be a good time to actually get it right. Just wait there a second.
Splendid. Barely feels like I was gone, eh? The aforementioned soundbite comes when Hornby is describing their finest album, ‘Songs From Northern Britain’, saying that, “if you’ve already got ‘Rubber Soul’, [it] is the next best comfort food you can buy.” That little phrase has stuck with me since I read it, largely because of how much I agree with it. The music of Teenage Fanclub is never likely to completely revitalise the way somebody thinks about music. It isn’t going to be the kind of music that will have hundreds of thousands of singing along at summer festivals. But, again, that’s part of why I like it. They know what they do well and, for some time now, they seem to have been enjoying exploring what it’s possible to do within those parameters.
‘Man-Made’ had very little impact on the music scene when it arrived in 2005, wobbling its way to 34 in the chart and fading from view soon after. Keen to avoid numerous overdubs and too many layers of (nonetheless really rather lovely) sound, a slightly less polished sound is evident throughout this album. At first, the desire to avoid too much finessing results in it all feeling like one big piece, occasionally ebbing and flowing, but failing to separate out into clearly defined three minute units. ‘Howdy’, their previous album, took me some time to get into, but after a while it all clicked. I left it late to buy ‘Man-Made’ as a result and it probably hasn’t had the attention it deserved. Even so, the first listen to it this week still provoked the same reaction – there are some nice bits in there, but they didn’t really leap out at me. That said, I’ve started to notice that little bits of certain songs are loitering in my head and repeated listens suggest a more complex soundstage than I’d previously thought. Having used this as an excuse to purchase the vinyl pressing, I’m duty bound to point out that the vinyl sounds noticeably better than the somewhat muddy CD and I can’t help wondering if I’ve only just scratched the surface of this one. ‘Save’ is the really standout, with its charmingly soulful guitar licks and full on Fanclub harmonies, but I wonder if I’m gravitating towards it because it’s the most polished song on the record and, thus, it reminds me of the version of this band I love so much.
The first two ‘A Week With…’ records resulted in the adoring pieces, either describing an album clicking after some time or simply reigniting the old love affair. This one is a little less conclusive. This album needs even more time lavishing on it because, and this is the reason for featuring it, I think it suffers from our ever diminishing concentration spans. If it had come into my life at the time ‘Songs From Northern Britain’ did, it would have received many more initial plays than it actually did. It would have stood a far stronger chance of capturing my imagination. It’s now starting to do that and, on this occasion, I think it might be me and not the record. It’s not been the best of weeks and I think a more charitable headspace might finally cause it to click. I shall be giving it further spins this week and, if this has prompted you to do the same, I wouldn’t mind meeting you back here in a week or two to see if we’ve reached some kind of conclusion. That is, after all, the spirit in which I intended this feature to develop. I don’t want each piece to simply gush about a record. It should provoke a few thoughts, question a few assumptions and sometimes, such as on this occasion, fail to reach a sensible conclusion. Whichever way you look at it, they’re a damn fine band and they deserve your time.