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Spotlights [Issue # 15 ]
Teenage Fanclub: Teenage Fan Club Turns 17

By Peter Vouras

First it’s difficult to believe that Teenage Fanclub has been around for 17 years and second it’s even harder to believe that they have been so consistently good for that long.

The new album, Man-Made, is their first since 2000’s Howdy and marks the first recorded entirely in the United States and the first ever released on their own label, PeMa (US distribution is on Merge records). Comprised of Norman Blake, Gerard Love, Francis Macdonald, and Raymond McGinley, Scotland’s TFC continues to pump out fresh, melodic pop with poignant lyrics. Man-Made, although a traditional TFC-style album, incorporates a distinct American flavor, most likely due to American producer, John McEntire, who has worked with Stereolab and The High Llamas. When asked about recording outside the UK, guitarist Blake said it wasn’t their initial intention. “The idea was to get him over to Glasgow for a few weeks,” says Blake, “but John asked if we’d be interested in coming to Chicago. We came over in February and brought very little equipment, basically one guitar each.” He continues, “We were open to anything that was going to happen. We used amps that were lying around the studio.” They even borrowed an acoustic guitar from Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, who stopped by one day.

Employing a rather unconventional engineering style, McEntire allowed TFC to get back to the essentials and concentrate on strictly the music. “In the past, we’ve been involved in the mixing stage, making a lot of suggestions, and probably getting on some nerves; but, with John we decided to go out for a few hours, go for coffee or walk around and when we’d come back, he’d play us the mix and we’d be happy with it and move on to the next one,” says Blake, “ It was nice to have somebody do that.”

The three talented songwriters in the band, Blake, Love, and McGinley, all have their own unique styles with Love demonstrating a slightly harder edge. “Time Stops” is a downbeat rocker with a sweet chorus and a wonderful string and acoustic guitar bridge. His other penned songs range from the sultry “Save” to the Byrds-like “Born Under A Good Sign.”

McGinley’s contributions fall in the more melodic category with an emphasis on vocal harmonies complementing simple instrumentation. “Nowhere” follows a bouncy picked guitar line, “Only With You” begins and ends with a beautiful piano etude, and “Feel’s” intro and bridge sound like it could be off an Allman Brothers album.

Norman Blake’s input, however, sets the tone of Man-Made with the opening track, “It’s All In My Mind,” a straight-forward ditty reminiscent of early REM. Along those same lines comes “Slow Fade,” a fast-moving number with a nifty wah-wah guitar solo. “Cells” could very well be the best song on the album with a catchy hook that you may find yourself humming later on in the day.
Teenage Fanclub are definitely a sum of their parts. I suppose that if you’ve been together that long you know what works and what doesn’t. The melodies and harmonies seem effortless and the uncomplicated instrumentation balances everything together. It’s a pleasure to observe the level of consistency this band has maintained over the past 17 years. While other groups “phone in,” so to speak, their latest release, Teenage Fanclub continues to explore new musical ground while retaining their core sound. Old fans will be ecstatic and new fans will have a new “favorite” band. Here’s to another 17 years boys. Yer greaaaaat laddies.

Merge Records

Teenage Fan Club Turns 17 Teenage Fanclub Man-Made

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