Ruminations from Raleigh Court

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Thoughts on the week in tv and Teenage Fanclub

It's Super Bowl Sunday and I can hardly wait for the hype. My favorite is when the pre-game invariably degenerates into displays of hyper-nationalism-the bombers, salute to our troops defending our freedoms, and general worship of all things Americana. I expect the usual over the top display this evening. As for the game, I think I'm pulling for the Seahawks. I've always liked those helmets. Speaking of TV....

  • Glad to see Johnny bite the dust on the OC on Thursday. I actually kind of liked him as a character at first, then he just became pathetic. The OC is really close to running off the tracks this season. They need some energy and scandal pronto.
  • Veronica Mars gave us a great episode on Tuesday, as Weevil looks down and out and Keith Mars continues to uncover clues about the bus accident. This show is so better not be taken off the air with the whole UPN/WB merger afoot.
  • I don't know why but I actually enjoy watching Numb3ers on Friday evenings. It is so ridiculous and over-acted but I am strangely drawn to it. Perhaps Charlie can explain my attraction to the show in some complex formula. Maybe I've just got an old school man-crush on Judd Hirsch.
  • Fox shows the last four eps of Arrested Development on Friday evening...if that show is picked up by Showtime, I will have to coax my financial manager/wife into shelling out a bit of coin for the channel.
  • Good new show on BBC America called Conviction. When paired with Night Detective, Monday night is a must TIVO event on the beeb.
On a different note, as I was driving home from campus the other day, my trusty mini I-Pod chose to rock out a couple of Teenage Fanclub songs. It got me thinking about just how much I love that band and how much they are underappreciated in the American musicscape. I know my friends Chris and Mary from the NYC dig these Scots, as they played Planets as their first dance song at their wedding. Apart from them and my friend Euan, I don't really know any other devotees. And in terms of press and general appreciation in the USA, they had one brief moment in the sun in the early '90's after the release of Bandwagonesque on DGC records. It got them a gig on SNL in 1992, the episode with Jason Priestley hosting (a classic episode featuring a great 90210 send off).

That record, their first major label release, remains a solid one and includes early hints at the pop songwriting genius of the band. Though they had the grunge hair, the bands songs were 60's influenced power pop gems a la Big Star and the Byrds with harmonies galore. Norman Blake sang most of the songs on this record, with tunes like Star Sign, Metal Baby, What You Do To Me and I Don't Know ranking as my favorites from this record. (Note: As Chris rightly pointed out to me, I neglected to mention their first stateside release on Matador Records called A Catholic Education. An oversight on my part, as I never actually owned that record and have only heard the tracks on there via a crappy cassette mix I had back in the day. That said, my thoughts on that record are that it is very much in the Bandwagonesque vein, but not as slickly produced. One for the hardcore fans, to be sure, and somewhat hard to come by these days.)

Their 1993 follow up on DGC was Thirteen, a bit more uneven and scattershot than Bandwagonesque. I've grown to appreciate it more now that I see where the boys were headed. The songs forshadow a move towards more pure pop arrangements and hint at their potential as songwriters. Fave songs include Norman 3, 120 mins, and Hang On.

I sort of dropped interest in the band after this record and their 1995 release Grand Prix sort of passed me by. I only heard it b/c my roommate Euan at Syracuse had a copy. The big trend on this record was that Norman Blake, Gerard Love and Ray MacGinley began to share the songwriting duties. A big, big plus for the band, as all three bring a different sound to the mix. Like Sloan, Teenage Fanclub manages to incorporate all of the sounds of disparate songwriters together to create a sound that most bands with one songwriter cannot match. Grand Prix includes gems like Versimiltude, Mellow Doubt, and About You.

Two more years passed, I moved to North Carolina and was in a serious Guided By Voices phase in 1997. While at a record store in godforsaken Greenville, NC, I stumbled upon the newest Fanclub record Songs from Northern Britain. Needing something to listen to other than Mag Earwhig!, I bought it without having heard a track. Smart move by me, as this proved to be the best record of that year in my opinion. I remember Chris telling me at the time that it was the comeback record of the year and I have to agree. Quite simply, it is a classic pop record, one where the band finally lived up to all of their potential. This is a great late summer record and can transport you to the rural Scottish Highlands, a region they wax lyrically about in the classic song Planets. There is really not a band song on here and I rank Take the Long Way Round, I Don't Want Control of You, Ain't that Enough, Winter, Start Again, and Speed of Light among their best ever offerings. If you don't own this record, you are missing out on a classic.

Following SFNB, Fanclub recorded a record with Jad Fair that I'm somewhat indifferent to. Though they next recorded Howdy in 2000, it takes until 2002 for it to show up on American shores with Thirsty Ear Records releasing it. Another fine effort from the boys, including I Need Direction, Near You, If I Never See You Again, and Accidental Life ranking as my favorites. The review on I-Tunes for this record is quite harsh and claims the band showed no energy here. To use Scottish parlance, that's a bunch of shite.

Finally, Fanclub's most record stateside offering Man-Made was released last year on NC's Merge Records. Because of the production from John McIntire of Tortoise fame, this record has a darker and more reflective tone that some critics did not respond to. I find it a really interesting turn for the band, full of really somber pop songs that are the yang to the SFNB's upbeat yin. Time Stops, It's All in My Mind, Save, Nowhere, Cells, Fallen Leaves and Feel stand out for me here. The I-Tunes review calls it a cool fusion b/w the 70's band America and Stereolab. I'll buy that.

Anyway, that's my tribute to Teenage Fanclub, a band that has had a major influence on me over the past 15 years or so. They have a retrospective called 4,736 Seconds if you need a good introduction to the band pre-Man Made. As Ali G is wont to say, give 'em some respeck and a serious listen.

Until next time.


  • I feel as if I wrote this! My feelings align with you even down to the indifferance to the Jad Fair album, the unabashed love of SFNB and the appreciation of the triple songwriting threat. What happened to Catholic Education? I love that one to.

    They play New York about once every 4 years, Mary and I always go its a good time, sometimes its fun being in a cult!!!

    There is a tribute album out now which is mostly bad BUT the covers of the Concept by The Shazam and Michael Shelly doing a track from SFNB are keepers. Speaking of Shelly he did an album in Scottland with fanclub drummer Francis Mcdonald under the name Cheeky Monkey which I think you would dig.

    Chris Larry

    By Blogger Chris Larry, at 9:04 AM  

  • Yep, totally spaced on A Catholic Education and have since edited the post to include that. Thanks for reading and noticing. TF fans are truly a cult...I read somewhere recently that Ben from Death Cab is a huge fanclub supporter, his favorite band. I'm not a big Death Cab guy, but that made me like them just a bit more.

    By Blogger JB, at 8:44 AM  

  • the oc has definitely been off course this year. each week i think about removing it from the list of shows to dvr but i just can't bring myself to it. gotta go rent season 1 of Veronica Mars. started watching it this season and i'm very confused.

    p.s. i like the text you used to link to dan.

    By Blogger youthlarge, at 12:55 PM  

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