Teenage Fanclub – Thirteen

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 3)

Teenage Fanclub is one of my favorite bands, even if I am disappointed (heartbroken?) by their reticence to record rockin’ songs anymore. My interest stops at Man-Made, and I didn’t bother to listen to 2021’s Endless Arcade, because by then Gerry Love had left the band and I am not interested in a Love-less TFC. Shadows and Here from 2010 and 2016, respectively, are fine but very subdued. Also, drummer Brendan O’Hare left after Thirteen, and while replacement Paul Quinn did a fine job on the next few albums, I think the band lost a little something when their unpredictable, hard-hitting drummer left.

What I Think of This Album

This is probably the least popular album of the classic-era TFC run, which is unfortunate. At worst, it is a bit uninspired, but there are still several great songs, with a few ranking as TFC classics.

As on Bandwagonesque, Gerry Love and Norman Blake trade off on the majority of the tracks, with Raymond McGinley ponying up three songs and drummer Brendan O’Hare contributing the silly instrumental “Get Funky.” If you add up the number of album tracks, you get thirteen, though some have claimed the title was an homage to the Big Star song, because people are very comfortable with easy stereotypes.

Once again, I find myself drawn a bit more to the Love songs. “Radio” is a whopping slice of power-pop, with O’Hare supplying an ample portion of said power; the harmonies here are otherworldly. At the close of the album, Love pays tribute to Byrd “Gene Clark,” although it’s really Neil Young who is being referenced musically on this transcendent track, with some distorted chunky riffing and a Zuma-riffic solo from McGinley that arrives early and lasts well into the third minute sans vocals.

Love is also responsible for the fake out on opener “Hang On,” which sounds like the band has not just gone back to the sound of A Catholic Education but actually immersed itself in grunge (though to be both fair and specific, it would be grunge playing T. Rex’s “20th Century Boy”), until forty seconds or so later, the clouds part and Love delivers a gem of a melodic tune with more excellent harmonies; fully opposed to grunge, the song ends with an extended string and flute part (credits to Joe McAlinden (BMX Bandits) and John McCusker, who has played with Paul Weller, Steve Earle, Linda Thompson, and Ocean Colour Scene, for the violins). While “Song to the Cynic” isn’t as strong as the others, it is still a fine, gentle song that fits in well with the rest of the album. The same holds true for “Fear of Flying,” which is unfortunately not based on the Erica Jong feminist novel.

Blake does not sit idly by, however. Challenging “Radio” as best album track is “Norman 3” (a working title that never got updated), another charming love song in the dumb lyrical mode of “What You Do to Me,” but much more musically involved. The harmonies are first-rate and McGinley offers up a fantastic solo that is buried deep in the mix. “The Cabbage” could easily have been a Bandwagonesque track, on which O’Hare again effectively pounds his kit while the guitars churn with pleasant nastiness (after some nice slide work) and Blake presents another great melody. The oddly titled “Ret Liv Dead” (Return of the Living Dead?) is a sophisticated pop construction, with more violin work, that ends a bit prematurely. “Commercial Alternative” is Blake’s forgettable offering, but it’s not bad by any means.

McGinley is still the junior member of the songwriting team. “120 Minutes” is a nice little number, while “Escher” does not offer up the guitar interplay that its title seems to promise. But again, not a bad song, and the solo is certainly listenable. Meanwhile, “Tears Are Cool,” is a more mature piece of songwriting, but it’s a little bland and McGinley’s lead vocals seem thin (he is also the weakest lead vocalist of the three), though the strings are nice.

Considering the album closely, the problem seems to be that its middle sags significantly (with six less-than-electrifying tracks in a row) after a phenomenal start, and “Get Funky” disrupts the flow of the what should be the two strong closing numbers. If the band had jettisoned the drummer’s instrumental and then swapped in McGinley’s graceful “Genius Envy” – a B-side to “Norman 3,” tacked on here as an extra, hidden track –  for any one of his other three songs, the album would be instantly better. “Genius Envy” is easily the best thing McGinley had written to date, with a gorgeous, crunchy solo. I used to own a record company sampler titled DGC Rarities Vol. 1 (there never was a subsequent volume), and it contained an outtake from Thirteen called “Mad Dog 20/20,” which would also have made Thirteen a better album.

There are five more hidden tracks, all B-sides from the album’s singles. The chunky, loose-limbed cover of the Flying Burrito Brothers’ “Older Guys” is excellent, while the run through of Phil Ochs’s “Chords of Fame” is not enjoyable at all. Another O’Hare instrumental (“Don’s Gone Columbia”) simply takes up space, and McGinley doesn’t do much with solo acoustic “Weird Horses.” But O’Hare surprises with the pastoral, meandering “Golden Glades,” which sounds exactly like what Teenage Fanclub became 20 years later.

The Best Thing About This Album

Love’s “Radio”

Release Date

October, 1993

The Cover Art

This is an admitted ripoff of Jeff Koons’s One Ball Total Equilibrium Tank from 1985. That said I like it.

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