Thursday, July 21, 2005

The Beard files vol 1

In the first of a series of outtakes from the new issue of Beard, here's my review of the new Fannies album.

Teenage Fanclub - Man Made (PeMa)

It’s all Nick Hornby’s fault. Teenage Fanclub remain one of our most cherished bands, but for some they can’t help but be tainted by association with the progenitor of bloke-lit. In his infuriatingly conservative 31 Songs Hornby pitches Suicide’s riveting serial killer epic ‘Frankie Teardrop’ against the Fannies’ sublime ‘Ain’t That Enough’. Being freaked out by the former’s blood-curdling screams and sleazy electro throb is fine when you’re an angry young man, he avers, but it’s something you grow out of. What he wants is a nice tune, chiming guitars and sweet harmonies. Those things the Fanclub have in abundance, but they deserve better than being lionised by the high priest of 50 quid bloke solipsism.
But I protest too much. Music isn’t about having to choose between “difficult” and “comforting”. And Teenage Fanclub, while not exactly radical, don’t fit so neatly into Hornby’s safe world of record collection rock. Collaborations with underground heroes like Jad Fair and John McEntire are not the stuff which dad rock dreams are made of. The Fanclub might make classic pop, but they’re not retro dullards. Man Made makes that point in vivid colours.
Some reviewers have sought to place the album’s sound somewhere between the lush classicism of Songs From Northern Britain and the fuzzy warmth of Grand Prix, but that only tells half the story. Mc Entire’s production is relatively spare, but each voice and instrument is deployed so deftly it sounds rich. Norman Blake’s ‘It’s All In My Mind’ may have a unforgettable Byrdsian melody but rather than jangle the clean guitars chug over an insistent floor tom beat that could almost be described as motorik. Almost. Towards the end, Raymond McGinlay returns from a trip to Joe Meek’s studio with a wobbly laser beam guitar solo. It’s not exactly Neu!, but it's ace, an instant Fannies classic.
Initially Love’s ‘Save’ sounds a little like REM’s ‘All The Way To Reno’, based as it is around a Tex-Mex flavoured chromatic chord sequence, but where the Athenians’ song sounded forced, the Fannie’s effort glides into a stomping chorus with apparent ease, given an elegent lift by John McCusker’s shimmering Philly soul violin.
REM come to mind once more in Blake’s ‘Cells’, a melancholy acoustic ballad that has a grace Stipe and co seem to have lost in their pointless bid to compete with stadium bores like U2.
It’s a perfect summer album of course. Stick this on your walkman and go for a walk in the park. Stroll along sun dappled gardens as ‘Fallen Leaves’ skips by on a shimmer of tremolo organ, offering crystalline kisses of surf guitar. Bug out to ‘Born Under A Bad Signs’ fidgety guitar spasms, McGinlay channelling the spirit of both J Mascis and Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy. And then there’s the gorgeous ‘Time Stops’, Gerry Love’s sweet vocals peeking over a bed of cotton candy guitar fuzz, while Frances McDonald bashes out a Northern Soul backbeat. There’s even a beautiful Jim O’Rourke style acoustic guitar break.
A wonderful return from Glasgow’s favourite pop uncles.

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