Alvvays – Antisocialites

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

It seemed like every time Alvvays toured near me, it was as part of some festival that I was not interested in. I *finally* got to see them in 2022 as they promoted their third album (and even then, the way the venue carved up the audience space to prevent underage drinking at this all-ages show diminished my experience). It felt like a long overdue event for me, and I was pleased to see such a large and youthful crowd, and I hope Alvvays has a nice, long career.

What I Think of This Album

Antisocialites is a huge step forward for Alvvays, even as it lacks an “Archie, Marry Me” (which, let’s face it, they will probably never equal). The songwriting is more consistent, the playing is more confident (aided by cleaner production), and the arrangements are more robust.

Gauzy and twirling, “In Undertow” finds the sweet spot between dream-pop and jangle-pop, with some subtle guitar feedback woven in as well. Ballad “Dreams Tonight” is a gorgeous new wave standout. The melancholy continues with arpeggiated “Not My Baby” (complete with girl group motorcycle sound effects), which rides an insistent bass part. “Already Gone” is another weepy but thoroughly affecting number. 

The band rocks out more on this album than on the debut, too. “Plimsoll Punks” is appealingly up-tempo and snotty, with some appropriately thick guitar tones, while lovelorn “Your Type” is propelled by some enthusiastic drumming and Molly Rankin’s elastic voice. None other than the Jesus and Mary Chain’s Jim Reid is namechecked on the driving, pounding “Lollipop (Ode to Jim), a bizarre bit of fanfic that involves taking LSD and on which Rankin does some neat vocal tricks. 

Matrimonial organ introduces the hilariously titled “Saved By a Waif,” which relies on a muscular guitar and bass, as well as some welcome keyboard lines. “Hey” sounds decidedly European, approaching something danceable while also being spiky and unapproachable. Meanwhile, closer “Forget About Life” is as inviting a plea for companionship and connection as you will ever hear. And I love the (fake, probably) tape manipulation at the end as everything goes out of key for a bit (a la Teenage Fanclub’s “Star Sign”).

Drummer Phil MacIsaac had left by the time the album was recorded. Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub sings and plays the glockenspiel (fuck yes!) but it is unclear on which track(s).

The Best Thing About This Album

While “Forget About Life” is stunning, I give the nod to “Lollipop (Ode to Jim)” in part because it rocks and in part because the band was comfortable enough to get a little weird with it.

Release Date

September, 2017

The Cover Art

Welp, another shitty album cover from Alvvays.

Eugenius – Oomalama

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

Eugene Kelly was one-half of the Vaselines with Frances McKee, that band occupying a somewhat outsized place in the indie-pop world given their meager output and lack of success (much of their renown due to a late arriving blessing from Kurt Cobain). They formed in 1986, released two EPs and one album, and then broke up. They reformed in 2006 and have played live very sporadically while also releasing two more albums, in 2010 and 2014. In fairness to all involved, the original run of the Vaselines did feature a rhythm section. McKee (who had previously played in a band with Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub), Duglas (not a typo) T. Stewart of BMX Bandits, and Sean Dickson of the Soup Dragons) has released albums under other band names and as a solo artist. Kelly, for his part, formed Captain America in 1990 and when Marvel’s lawyers came calling, changed the name to Eugenius (which was his nickname). With a somewhat messy line-up situation, Eugenius released two albums and then Kelly just proceeded under his own name thereafter. I used to own both Eugenius albums, and while I got rid of Mary Queen of Scots, I would be willing to give it a listen again.

What I Think of This Album

There is a very appealing slacker vibe to these fourteen tracks, with the band deceptively shambling their way through a set that includes one song (“Bed-In”) about how much Eugene Kelly likes sleeping and watching tv, another (“Breakfast”) that apologizes for how he “can’t help falling down,” and the title track, which basically just repeats the absurd “oomalamaa” over and over and also makes an unrelated claim about, I guess, resurrection. In many ways, the album is something the Lemonheads might have created if Evan Dando was more self-effacing and had a better sense of humor (and maybe, you know, laid off the drugs). Throughout, Kelly lends his everyman voice to catchy, simple songs that for all their noise suggest a fundamentally cheerful and lighthearted outlook, as you might expect from titles like “I’m the Sun,” “Wow!” and “Buttermilk.”

For all of its gleeful shagginess, the truth is that Kelly is an ace songwriter and guitarist Gordon Keen unleashes some fantastic leads amidst the mess. Indeed, there is a slippery little riff at the end of the delirious solo on “Bed-In” that belongs in some hall of fame somewhere. Additional very impressive guitar goodness can be heard on the quiet/loud “Down On Me,” fiery “Flame On,” and the rockin’ “Here I Go,” as well as on most other tracks, really.

The band sprinkles just enough surprises in to keep things interesting, not that anyone is in danger of getting bored with Oomalama. Thus, there is some subtle organ on “Breakfast,” strings on the ballad “Hot Dog” (written by Keen), and pleasant (dare I say, sunny?) harmonies on “I’m the Sun.” 

The U.S. release adds three tracks to the eleven on the original U.K. release. One is a robust cover of “Indian Summer” by Beat Happening, the spiritual American cousin to Kelly’s previous band, the Vaselines. This song was also covered by Luna. The other two – “Wow” and “Wannabe” were (along with “Bed-In”) originally on the first Captain America EP. “Wow” is a sludgy delight, reminiscent maybe of the Stooges, and “Wannabe,” which seems like it borrows the verses from Chuck Berry, employs some echo chamber sonics on Kelly’s vocals.

Some of the tracks were recorded with an early version of the band, resulting in a confusing credits situation, though it is clear that Gordon Keen of BMX Bandits has always been the band’s guitarist. Francis MacDonald of Teenage Fanclub (and also manager of Camera Obscura) drums on some songs. Duglas T. Stewart contributes as does Joe McAlinden, both of BMX Bandits. The band thanks Teenage Fanclub in the liner notes.

The Best Thing About This Album

The guitar work of Gordon Keen.

Release Date

September, 1992

The Cover Art

A head-scratcher, but I really like it.

El Goodo – El Goodo

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist

The things I definitely know about this band are much more important than the things I barely know about this band. Emerging from the small but excellently-named town of Resolven, Wales in the mid-2000s, the quintet did not use last names. They did eventually reveal their surnames, and it turns out that three of them share the admittedly common “James.” And two of those Jameses are brothers, so this is a brothers band! They have released four albums in roughly a dozen years. They are friends with the Super Furry Animals. I don’t have any more information about the group. But I do know that they are fans of ’60s pop, favoring a jangly, hazy, ornate, lite-psychedelic sound, so that the nod to Big Star via their name is a bit misleading. At the same time, they also tip their hat to related bands from the ’80s and after.

What I Think of This Album

Nothing here is particularly original, but that is not the point. Not even close. El Goodo demonstrate a patent and steadfast dedication to ‘60s sounds and songcraft, as well as the ’80s and ’90s bands that updated those sounds, and their resolve in (yes!) doing so is admirable. This band knows what they love, and they are driven to celebrate it. This is an album of sunny harmonies, fulsome orchestration, and simple but engaging melodies. If that’s not for you, okay. At the barest minimum, you can play “spot the influence” and have a good time. 

For example, if the Jesus and Mary Chain had done a better and brighter (or at least, more ironic) job with the country leanings of Stoned and Dethroned, they would have created “If You Come Back.” More fundamentally, to the extent it is true that the Jesus and Mary Chain were, as someone once described, the Beach Boys crossed with the Velvet Underground, then “Honey” is the Jesus and Mary Chain crossed with the Beach Boys. That the title evokes JAMC’s iconic “Just Like Honey” cannot be an accident. Even less possibly happenstance is “Here It Comes,” which should have Lou Reed’s lawyers salivating, as it is pretty much “Heroin” with a different vocal melody and lyrics (the melody being reminiscent of Mercury Rev’s “Car Wash Hair,” instead). 

The Beach Boys passing a joint to the Byrds is what “If I Were a Song” sounds like, though I can also detect shades of Teenage Fanclub, particularly in the so-dumb-they’re-sweet-lyrics that Norman Blake specializes in (“If I was a song, I’d be about you, baby”). “Surreal Morning” apes Beachwood Sparks and maybe a little of the Waxwings with its pillowy, psychedelic country-rock. Bright and bouncy “Chalking the Lines” reminds me of nothing so much as Herman’s Hermits, again with hints of the Waxwings, augmented by brass and an experimental bridge.

The spaghetti western horns and bongos  of “I Saw Nothing” take you back to 1965, clutching the poncho of a laconic, anonymous drifter bent on revenge. The Mamas and the Papas could’ve recorded “What Went Wrong? (or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb)” but they would have had to have been very sad. Again, the clear reference to 1964 cinema in the title is a clue that the band knows exactly what they are doing.

Opener “Life Station” could be a lost Spacemen 3 track – narcotized, droney, blissful – though with a more delicate touch, as evinced by the (synthesized) woodwinds, at least until the bizarre, fractured ending. Spacemen 3 also influence “Silly Thoughts,” but this would be a Spacemen 3 more enamored with the Byrds than Suicide. 
The short “Esperanto Video” (what?) aspires to be an instrumental Pet Sounds outtake. “Stuck In the 60’s” is a little too candy-colored for me at the start, but this odd song about a time machine owes a lot to the spacier bands of Elephant 6; I love the reverby handclaps. “I Tried But I Failed” is a lullaby that is likewise reminiscent of Elf Power or Olivia Tremor Control.

The Best Thing About This Album

How it displays the band’s unabashed love of other bands.

Release Date

2006

The Cover Art

Neither good nor bad. I think the European release has different art.

Trash Can Sinatras – Weightlifting

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

Three members of Trash Can Sinatras toured the U.S. in 2018, and I went to one of those shows (which was focused on the Cake and I’ve Seen Everything material). It was an acoustic show, and I have to assume I was looking at Frank Reader, John Douglas, and Paul Livingstone, but I guess I don’t really know. It was a subdued, laid back affair – I think I was sitting the whole time – but I was glad I finally got to see (three-fifths of) the band.

What I Think of This Album

The missing “the” from the band name was probably the least controversial change the quintet had to weather by the time of this fourth album. In the intervening years, their U.S. distributor refused their third album (A Happy Pocket); their label Go! Discs went under shortly thereafter (after Polygram purchased a majority stake); and the band had to sell their Shabby Road studio and declare bankruptcy. It took eight years after Pocket for this album to appear; it was the first Sinatras album released in the U.S. in over a decade. The band financed the album themselves, with assistance from the Scottish Arts Council.

There is probably a reason the first cut is titled “Welcome Back,” and that it forcefully jumps out of the speakers, with a muscular sound not really heard on previous albums. As a declaration of a comeback, it is fairly convincing. The Aztec Camera comparisons from the debut reappear on “All the Dark Horses,” which sounds like one of the better tracks from the Stray-era (particularly the mandolin-like guitar part).

Among the few other uptempo tracks are “Freetime,” which features some quality guitar work, and the stinging “It’s A Miracle,” on which the band throws in timpani and strings. The rest is slower stuff, some of which I honestly just skip. Fellow Scots Norman Blake (Teenage Fanclub) adds vocals on ballad “Got Carried Away,” which is appropriate, as much of this album sounds like the sibling of his band’s Songs From Northern Britain. “A Coda” is delicate and fragile, with a lovely vocal from Reader (who goes by Francis in the credits this time) and some overdubbed speak-sing that works very well.

The production on “Country Air” saves what otherwise might be a too-sleepy, bland number. Similarly, the gentle wah-wah of “Leave Me Alone” complements Reader’s plaintive, resigned vocal. The title track – relegated to the final slot – offers up optimism and some nice vocals, with unusually present bass and drums for such a light song, but this is sort of a middling track. The album is not an essential, but it will prove satisfying for true fans of the band.

Andy Chase (Ivy) mixed the album.

The Best Thing About This Album

The fact that the band found the wherewithal (spiritual as well as financial) to make this album.

Release Date

August, 2004

The Cover Art

Yeah, I approve. Splashes of color, good use of shadow, nice composition.

Teenage Fanclub – Howdy!

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 7)

Gerry Love left Teenage Fanclub in 2018. As far as I am concerned, the band ended at that point (though they have released one album since then). I feel about this the way I feel about a Church without Marty Willson-Piper and New Order minus Peter Hook. These individuals are too important to my personal sense of what each band fundamentally is to be able to accept their absence. Love was Teenage Fanclub’s best and most consistent songwriter.

What I Think of This Album

At this point, you know what you’re getting with Teenage Fanclub and you’ve either come to terms with that or you haven’t. There is no sense wishing they would write another “Everything Flows,” “Radio,” or “Neil Jung” – they’re just not going to. What they are going to do is showcase their craft, and deliver a pretty good set of sparkling but more or less sedate ’60s influenced pop songs.

In truth, this is a borderline TFC album. The songwriting split has been cemented by now as well, so you can also plan on getting an equal number of Gerry Love, Norman Blake, and Raymond McGinley songs. This time, the songs are even sequenced so there is a consistent pattern of songwriting origin.

For the first time, though, I find Blake to be the clear winner of the intra-band rivalry. The best song on the album, and a TFC classic, comes from Blake’s pen in the form of the stunning “Straight & Narrow,” which has strings, harmonies, an insistent drum part, and a gold medal melody. Blake gets playful on “Dumb Dumb Dumb,” mostly via the speaker-jumping guitar that forms the skeleton of this heartfelt and ultra-melodic tune; the outro is very nice, too. “Accidental Life” has a melody that swells and crests, with absolutely gorgeous harmonies, tumbling drums, and a subtle lap steel guitar. Meanwhile, “If I Never See You Again” is a short, simple folky song that almost counts as filler.

Love’s best offering is the sweet, harmony-stuffed “I Need Direction,” a poppy song of yearning with a very ‘60s organ break. “Near You” is improved by some psychedelic production touches and offers more energetic than usual drumming from Paul Quinn. A guitar intro that sounds like a ticking clock introduces the brass-filled “The Town and the City,” while bongos are the first striking feature of “Cul de Sac.” Neither song is anything special, and overall, this is Love’s weakest set of contributions to date.

McGinley remains the junior partner, with the thinnest voice and the less interesting songs. “I Can’t Find My Way Home” has a decent chorus but not much else to commend it, and also goes on way too long. “Happiness” is improved by a morose organ but again, McGinley does little with his opportunity. Perhaps his worst outing is on the very annoying “The Sun Shines From You;” the chorus is the best part. I don’t know who authorized McGinley to take up almost seven minutes of run time with “My Uptight Life,” but that was a very poor decision. McGinley’s tracks really bring this album down.

Honestly, we are talking about one phenomenal Fannies song here, three more really good songs, one decent song and then . . . . nothing.

The Best Thing About This Album

“Straight & Narrow” by a mile.

Release Date

October, 2000

The Cover Art

This is a horrific album cover. I can’t believe people get paid for shit like this.

Teenage Fanclub – Songs From Northern Britain

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 6)

I don’t believe that all good things must come to an end. That’s bullshit. But in the case of Teenage Fanclub, this was the beginning of the end for me. This is where the band took a turn towards the pastoral, naps in hammocks, and a warm blanket for those fall evenings in the rocking chair on the front porch. From this point forward, the songs were more about craft and less about art, and certainly lacking the fire and energy of the old days. That’s okay – by this point they’ve basically perfected that craft, and the songs can be lovely. I hung on for a few more albums. I will always love Teenage Fanclub, regardless.

What I Think of This Album

I’m not gonna lie . . . I was very disappointed in this album when it came out, and I remain so. I like it better now than I did before, to be sure, but I miss the Teenage Fanclub that turned its guitars up loud. This celebration of gentle domesticity sounds very pretty. It is an undeniably pretty album, with meticulous harmonies and some sublime melodies. The band has arguably never sung better (certainly not before this and probably not since). Nonetheless, I would have preferred something messier and noisier and more fun. There are guitar solos on here, actually, but they are so gentlemanly, and all in the service of songs about tea kettles or something.

Raymond McGinley provides a wiggly, whammy bar lead part on “Can’t Feel My Soul,” which may be the furthest the band strays from the straight and narrow on this disc. His second contribution – “It’s a Bad World” – is decent, with some flashes of guitar muscle, but still fairly staid. “I Don’t Care” could have benefitted from the rebellious spirit the title implies, but alas, what McGinley affirms is “I don’t care about where I’m going / Because I’ll be there and so will you.” His last song is an acoustic-based number with a slight country feel and a strongly treacly message, which is to be expected from something called “Your Love Is the Place Where I Come From.”

Norman Blake and Gerard Love split the remaining eight tracks (though Blake shares credit on one of his songs with former (and at this point, future) drummer Frances MacDonald). Blake gets the privilege of opening the disc and “Start Again” is an excellent Byrdsy tune with two nice solos (the second one being better) from McGinley and smooth harmonies. The saccharine “I Don’t Want Control of You” just makes me roll my eyes; this is something 60 years old cue up as the soundtrack to their vow renewal ceremonies. The solo is okay. A song titled “Planets” should be more exciting than what Blake and MacDonald serve up, another slow piece, this time with strings. Blake comes up with another great melody on “Winter,” again recruiting Love and McGinley for perfect harmonies; there is a nice chiming (and chorused) guitar part.

Love, as usual, delivers in spades. “Ain’t That Enough” is a sunny song that is the musical equivalent of rolling hills, with jangle and harmonies for miles and miles. The wah-wah pedal inflections elevate the already resplendent “Take the Long Way Round” to a whole new level of genius; the vocal break is wonderful, too. There is a somber beauty to the brooding “Mount Everest,” with two solos that approach the old Neil Young worship of past such efforts, while “Speed of Light” has unusual sonic effects and a surprisingly tough chorus, as well as some fine “whoo hoo hoo”s from the boys.

Two great Blake songs and four tunes from Love that range from great to phenomenal, plus one good McGinley song. Not bad, but this is not the Teenage Fanclub you were looking for.

The Best Thing About This Album

Those wah-wah parts of “Take the Long Way Round” – there should be more of them.

Release Date

July, 1997

The Cover Art

Some people love this artwork. I think it is boring, and the font is terrible.

Teenage Fanclub – Deep Fried Fanclub

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 4)

So I just got this recently, thinking it was something I should own, as it comes from my favorite TFC period. And as I listened to “God Knows It’s True,” I realized that I owned that song on some other album, but for the life of me I can’t figure out what (nor can I find it in my collection). That’s going to drive me crazy.

What I Think of This Album

This is a collection of singles and B-sides from 1990 and a couple from 1992, predictably only appealling for hardcore Fannies fans.

The best thing is “God Knows It’s True,” which was never included on any studio album. This Norman Blake composition rivals accompanying track “Everything Flows” for guitar mastery and melodic skill, and is reason enough to buy this album. As far as legitimate deep cuts, Gerard Love’s “So Far Gone” could’ve been a key album track if they had worked harder on the vocals (this is pre-Bandwagonesque, before they started singing properly).

The rest of the originals are decidedly inessential. “Speeder” is a slack-string instrumental, powered by Brendan O’Hare’s kick drum, and while it’s not going to set the world on fire, it’s not bad at all. The hilariously titled “Weedbreak,” is another instrumental and it goes on surprisingly long without actually going anywhere. The third instrumental is “Ghetto Blaster,” and it falls between “Speeder” and “Weedbreak” on the quality spectrum, though O’Hare goes impressively apeshit on the drums. 

A demo version of “A Catholic Education” (amusingly titled “Primary Education”) is little more than a historical document, though it does reveal the boys getting silly in the studio. The alternate version of “Critical Mass” is enjoyable but not too different from the album version.

The covers are uniformly fun. The ragged run through of “The Ballad of John and Yoko” has a lot of scruffy charm. The not-at-all surprising cover of Neil Young’s “Don’t Cry No Tears” is a chiming success. A sense of defiance and exuberance pervades “I’m Free Again,” originally by Alex Chilton (Big Star); this cover was released in 1992 by K Records. “Bad Seed” is not the Beat Happening cover I would have expected TFC to choose, but they turn in an appropriately sludgy version.

The Best Thing About This Album

You know it’s “God Knows It’s True.”

Release Date

February, 1995

The Cover Art

Ugly as shit, but I have to admit, it is fully consistent with the carefree attitude of the music.

Teenage Fanclub – Grand Prix

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 5)

In 1993, someone had the idea to pair modern rock/alternative bands with hip-hop artists and ask them to create original songs for the soundtrack to the movie Judgment Night. Among the collaborations were Pearl Jam with Cypress Hill, Ice-T and Slayer, Del the Funky Homosapien with Dinosaur Jr, and Teenage Fanclub with De La Soul. I think if you were going to pair Teenage Fanclub with any hip hop act, it would pretty much HAVE to be De La Soul (or maybe A Tribe Called Quest). The resulting track – “Fallin’” – is much more De La Soul than the Fannies, but the band adds some subtle instrumentation and backing vocals (the chorus is built around a sample of Tom Petty’s “Free Fallin’”). I also recall the Biohazard and Onyx title track collaboration on this album, which was really good, too. Let the boys be boys, I guess. The other notable such union is Public Enemy and Anthrax on “Bring the Noise,” but that was an organic pairing born of mutual respect, and predated Judgment Night by about two years.

What I Think of This Album

My absolute favorite Teenage Fanclub album, Grand Prix is without doubt the most consistent work of the band’s career, and represents the end of the time when they would still play their guitars loudly.

Notably, guitarist Raymond McGinley for the first time almost matches bassist Gerard Love and guitarist Norman Blake in song quality and quantity. Awarded the lead off track, McGinley does not disappoint with the harmony-dripping “About You,” resplendent in chiming guitars, an engaging, brief solo, and a superb bass line. “Verisimilitude” is all arpeggios in the verses and an irresistible keyboard line in the chorus; McGinley has the least appealing voice of the three but his understated performance here works very well, though the song might be a little too long (it doesn’t help that the lyrics just repeat).

His other two offerings aren’t nearly as enjoyable, but they are – as is the case with almost every TFC song – not unlistenable. “I Gotta Know” is a bit ponderous, but the two short solos are a highlight. “Say No” is also a bit subdued for my tastes – it would have fit in well on forthcoming Songs From Northern Britain – but is admittedly a very well constructed and arranged song, with some compelling harmonies and nice guitar work at the end. Still, this album is McGinley’s notice that he won’t be ignored.

Beyond that, it is the usual Love and Blake show. Blake delivers at least one stunner, the sympathetic “Neil Jung,” and you can guess what McGinley’s extended solo on this one sounds like, but that arrives only on the heels of the excellent melody and harmonies. “I’ll Make It Clear” is another classic Blake love song, with simple and direct lyrics; the bridge is very Beatles-esque, and the solo is smooth and graceful. “Tears” is a ballad, albeit a sort of bouncy one, with strings and horns not from Joe McAlinden this time. “Mellow Doubt” is a dark acoustic number (it reminds me a bit of the Connells at first, which is the greatest compliment the Connells will ever receive), energized by handclaps. Finally, closer “Hardcore/Ballad” is pure filler, but the chords of the “hardcore” part hint at a song that could’ve worked.

Love’s songs on this album are among the best TFC tracks ever. The glorious “Sparky’s Dream” is basically a perfect pop song – nothing could have gone better for the band over these three plus minutes. If you were to boil Teenage Fanclub down to just one song, this would be the one you would pick. The guitars of “Don’t Look Back” herald another great song, and they don’t lie. This is a sweet song, with a buttery chorus (“I’d steal a car to drive you home”), and an outstanding but simple solo at the end; the guitar arrangement at the close is one of my favorite things on this album.

Love’s streak continues with crunchy, rollicking “Discolite,” bathed in harmonies and guitars that ring out for eons. I very much enjoy the double snare hits on this song, as well as the bass drum work. The guitar outro is otherworldly. “Going Places” is buried deep in the track listing, which is simply a testament to how good the surrounding songs are. This is a lazy river of a tune, which nonetheless boasts a fine, understated solo.

Overall, new drummer Paul Quinn (Soup Dragons) honors the songs but not so much the spirit; I wonder what the departed Brendan O’Hare, whose manic energy is missed here, could’ve brought to the proceedings.

The Best Thing About This Album

Jesus. Maybe “Sparky’s Dream.”

Release Date

May, 1995

The Cover Art

I don’t love the shiny font but I understand the choice, given the album title. The gleaming black car is a nice touch, and I have to believe served as partial inspiration for Massive Attack’s Mezzanine a few years later.

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.

Teenage Fanclub – Bandwagonesque

What I Think of When I Think of This Artist (part 2)

I recall fondly the way MTV VJ Dave Kendall would pronounce Bandwagonesque, which he did often when I was in college. It felt like the video for “The Concept” was always on 120 Minutes, and honestly, it’s not even in my top 7 songs from this album. Maybe not even top 8. I would have much rather had “Star Sign” – the song that first attracted me to Teenage Fanclub – get all that attention. 

What I Think of This Album

This is technically the third Teenage Fanclub album, but I think of it as the second one because the true second album – The King – was essentially a joke recording, supposedly made in one night (after the sessions for Bandwagonesque were completed). The fact that Bandwagonesque was released roughly three months after The King tells us which one is the real album.

Anyway, this is the album, produced by Don Fleming (who also worked with Hole and Sonic Youth), that made Teenage Fanclub famous. Bandwagonesque was the band’s defining moment in more ways than one. Apart from being the album that broke them in the US, it also set the framework for future TFC albums, with split songwriting, a greater emphasis on harmonies and melody, and the songwriter taking lead vocals on his songs. The third (second) album also moved permanently away from the sludgier A Catholic Education in that it evinced a predilection for love songs, and this time the guitars chime and jangle as much as they churn and distort.

Norman Blake provided four tracks, bassist Gerry Love five, guitarist Raymond McGinley got his feet wet with just one, and then Love and drummer Brendan O’Hare collaborated on one, with the entire band getting credit for the throwaway “Satan.” The quality here is so high it is difficult to decide whether Love or Blake comes out ahead. I might have to give the nod to Gerry Love, but I can see the argument the other way.

First, “Star Sign” is impeccable, a Byrdsy treat about superstition that comes to life after a lengthy, almost infuriating intro. The rising bass part and the “oh well” nature of the lyrics play off O’Hare’s near-manic drumming and the tape flutter effect near the end, where everything goes out of tune for a hot second is fucking awesome (this was mysteriously eliminated from later versions of the song – I have listened to them all, and even communicated with Brendan O’Hare’s spouse on Facebook about it). Love also contributes the beautiful and enigmatic  “December” (what the fuck does “I wanted to assassinate December” mean?), with perfect strings from BMX Bandit Joe McAlinden (a band Blake was also in). This track admittedly does bring to mind Big Star’s “September Gurls.”

Love gets religious on “Guiding Star,” also again benefitting from McAlinden’s arrangement, which flows like honey out of the speakers on the harmonised vocals of the band members, and a nice little guitar riff at the end. Casting that aside, Love turns in the psychedelic, swirling instrumental “Is This Music?,” on which O’Hare wears out the bass drum while McGinley and Blake’s guitars weave around each other and climb towards the heavens. I don’t much care for “Pet Rock,” but the horn part is cool (McAlinden once more), even if the guitar solo is a bit too conventional for me.

Blake, though, gives us the so-stupid-its-perfect “What You Do To Me,” possibly the most reductive love song in the world; the guitars, vocals, and melody suggest the Beatles, Beach Boys, and the Byrds all locked in the same room. Blake’s other stunning contribution is the fantastic (and fantastically titled) “Alcoholiday.” This is a guitar showcase, yes, but the sighing harmonies and the lyrics of ambivalent love (including the dismissive “Baby, I’ve been fucked already”) are stellar; meanwhile, the solo at the end should have led to an invite from Neil Young to join Crazy Horse.

I will give Blake most credit for “Sidewinder,” another simple but perfect love song with silly lyrics (“When you’re ticking / I’m your tock), this time aimed at a drummer (“You look so cute behind your kit / . . . / Hit the snare you know it makes me smile”), and another casually enamel-stripping solo from McGinley. “Metal Baby” is probably Blake’s weakest offering, reinforcing the notion from A Catholic Education’s “Heavy Metal” and “Heavy Metal II” that this band does not know the first thing about metal. Blake also wrote “The Concept,” which I never cared for that much. The feedback opening is cool, and I dig the chord progression. McGinley plays one excellent solo (the first one) and one good solo (duh). And I like the shift to the dreamy, weightless, wordless harmonies. And I really like it when the strings take center stage for a few seconds, right before the second solo. But while there are a lot of things about this song I like a lot, it doesn’t come together for me. Part of it, I think, is that it’s just too goddamn long.

McGinley’s “I Don’t Know” is not surprisingly, a riffy little affair with some great vocal harmonies, and a fine melody.

I dispute the inescapable comparisons to Big Star. I dispute and reject them. First, these Scots have much better voices than Alex Chilton and Chris Bell. If there is any complaint about the Fannies’ vocals, it’s that they can seem a bit lackadaisical. Big Star, on the other hand, often relied on bluesy throat-straining – the opposite of lackadaisical – which you will never hear on a TFC album. Second, there is not that much Big Star that actually sounds like this. More to the point, there is a lot of Big Star that doesn’t – “She’s a Mover,” “Mod Lang,” “O My Soul,” “Don’t Lie to Me.” Teenage Fanclub has a fairly consistent sound, whereas Big Star tended to wander from style to style. Yes, this music owes a debt to “September Gurls” and the last half of “Daisy Girl,” but to claim this is the equivalent of the fourth Big Star album is insane.

The cover art was intended to be a snide comment on the music industry, cheaply put together using clipart by Sharon Fitzgerald (McGinley’s girlfriend at the time). Little did TFC realize that Gene Simmons of KISS had apparently trademarked bags of money with dollar signs on them (?????) and decided to sue.

The yellow spine of my CD has faded to white, but I will never replace it (because I need that moment in “Star Sign” that has been erased from history).

The Best Thing About This Album

“Star Sign,” now and forever.

Release Date

November, 1991

The Cover Art

It has grown on me. The color is garish and the image is silly, and at one point I really didn’t like it. I still don’t love it, but it doesn’t bother me anymore.

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