I’m not quite sure it was a good thing to come to this review on the back of penning my thoughts on the latest album from The Wedding Present. I love both bands, but they’ve taken radically different paths since their respective breaks.
That said, each remains relevant and vital all these years on, and while the Weddoes have just delivered a triumphant if complex 20-song opus, TFC’s own 12-track winner appears on the face of it far radio-friendly. Yet there’s real substance too.
In only their third studio outing in 14 years and the first since 2010’s acclaimed Shadows, the band again take an egalitarian approach, prime players Norman Blake, Gerard Love and Raymond McGinley contributing four songs each on an album put together between their native Glasgow and rural Provence (and mixed in Hamburg), the band’s central trio joined again by drummer Francis Macdonald, keyboard player Dave McGowan and long-time soundman David Henderson.
While the songs for this, their 10th long player, were written many miles apart (Norman lives in Canada these days), the band clearly still understand each other well enough to know where TFC are at collectively and creatively (and somewhat telephatically). There’s a recurring feel of optimism too, perhaps a thankfulness that they’re still as relevant today as in the late ‘80s, the onset of years clearly not robbing this unit of a youthful, enthusiastic, truthful approach to the music they love.
There’s certainly no doubting over the opening two tracks that they can still write infectious crossover hits, and lead-off single I’m in Love is a blast of fresh air, TFC-style, a soundtrack for a sunny day. Norman’s lead vocal is pitched perfectly, the harmonies are sublime, and yes, I like your trajectory too, Mr Blake. What’s more, at 162 seconds it doesn’t outstay its welcome.
Like the opener, this album rarely strays from themes of life and love, and while the singles market might have changed since Ain’t That Enough broke the top-20 some 19 years ago (yep, 19 years – count them), surely there’s still room for someone to show the kids of today the way.
There are, as we might expect, a few ‘60s influences across this album, and touches of the ‘70s here and there, this punter put in mind of Dave Hill’s guitar riff on Slade’s Far Far Away on Gerry’s radio-friendly Thin Air, although the song soon morphs into classic (and more likely) Byrds territory, complete with typically-joyous TFC guitar touches.
Ray’s songs often offer welcome gear changes, and he takes a more low-key, brooding approach as the baton is handed on for Hold On, with some inventive chord sequences to the fore. And while Here mostly incorporates a clean sound – bringing to mind Ron Sexsmith’s Long Player Late Bloomer in places – there’s no doubting the quality of the songs nor the musicianship, even if a few of us might appreciate a little more noise. I’d hesitate to suggest it’s polished though. There are enough nuggets to keep it the right side of ‘produced’. Maybe just ensure the speakers are turned right up.
On another Blake instant classic, The Darkest Part of the Night, the subtle strings among the chiming guitars (of freedom) work well. There are traces of the Travelling Wilburys too, but just when this track’s in danger of being too refined, those luscious guitar duels transport you.
I Have Nothing More To Say starts out more a Gerry Rafferty tribute than a Gerry Love track, with swirling pedal effects aplenty. But on repeated listens there’s much more, and I’m not just saying that as it slowly gives rise to a touch of glorious Stylophone-like distortion. It’s still more measured than a grunge approach of old, but it’s distortion all the same.
You could say Ray’s I Was Beautiful When I Was Alive takes us on something of an orbital trip around our senses (man). The band use the term ‘kraut-folk-rock’, their press release talking of ‘sonically replacing the steady beat of the German autobahn with the vast open skies of the Pacific Coast Road’. I get that, but also hear wondrous shades of late Small Faces classic The Autumn Stone and, more recently, The Everlasting Yeah’s dreamy Everything’s Beautiful before the synths lead us towards a stirring finish.
That ‘60s feel continues with a hint of Crosby, Stills and Nash amid the light guitar licks on Gerry’s soul-searching The First Sight, before the brass – bold as brass – helps ramp things up towards another rousing play-out. And the same can be said of Norman’s Live in the Moment, the writer’s more measured tones met by a flourish of trumpets that take us to the level the optimistic lyrics suggest, adding Love-esque qualities (and I’m talking Arthur Lee’s outfit there, rather than Gerry). Furthermore, check out the neat Edwyn Collins’ A Girl Like You style guitar late on.
From there, Ray’s beautifully-ethereal Steady State further conjures up images of gentle, long summer days and heat hazes, for the kind of seemingly effortless, reflective song that only the more carefree souls could nail. And if age is about feeling rather than dates on a birth certificate, here is perhaps further proof that this band remain worthy of their name after all these years.
Similarly, Gerry’s next inspired slice of rose-coloured clarity, It’s a Sign, conjures up an early ‘70s pop feel for me. I could see Pilot taking this back in time, having a sneaky hit with it. The Bay City Rollers may then try and pass it off as their own, but we’d know better.
On Ray’s lush ode to unerring friendship, With You, there’s an almost Bernard Sumner vocal (albeit more tuneful, I might add) in a melancholic, wistful take on a tried and tested TFC theme. The subtle Hammond organ works well too.
And finally, Norman’s reflective waltz Connected to Life provides an aptly-filmic closing statement, the title credits coming up and this listener sticking around right to the emotional end, particularly lapping up the relatively pared-back feedback.
Okay, so there are moments where I’d prefer the band to let rip, give us a little more of that old edge. But there’s more on Here than first meets the ear. And while TFC’s writing prowess has never been in doubt, perhaps they just don’t feel the need to shout from the rooftops about their abilities these days.
Here is a mature album, and arguably the next logical step after Man-made and Shadows for a band 27 years older than when they thrilled us with A Catholic Education. And let’s be thankful we’re still talking Teenage Fanclub rather than Midlife Crisis. It’s a triumph, and choosing where and when to rein themselves in makes the more unleashed moments all the more euphoric.
For all the latest from Teenage Fanclub, including tour dates and how to track down the new album, head to the band’s official website. And for a recent writewyattuk feature/ interview with Norman Blake, head … erm … Here.
I’m still waiting for my pre-ordered copy to arrive (GRRR!) so I enjoyed reading this as a warm-up, Malcolm. Sounds like a classy ‘business as usual’ album – it is ages since they rocked out but that may well be true of their fanbase as well!
Thanks Bruce. Hope it’s not travelling surface mail. Will be worth the wait though.