The Album List #3: Teenage Fanclub “Bandwagonesque”


They’re from Scotland, you know.

The year: 1991.

The place: Manhattan. I think. Somewhere in New York City, at the very least.

The sitch: Spin magazine releases their year-end issue. It’s the issue with all the lists about what’s awesome and what wasn’t so awesome.

This particular list caused a stir, though, because of what was number one.

1991 was a year where Nirvana’s masterful Nevermind dominated everything. Except Spin. No, they decided to give their number one album of the year slot to a Scottish indie band that didn’t sell all that well and probably few of you have actually listened to in your lives.

I was the one person who thought Spin was the true genius magazine in 1991. Because Bandwagonesque is in my opinion- BETTER than Nevermind.

See, Nevermind, for all it’s brilliance, suffers from one problem. It’s not a big problem. But it is a telling one. Nevermind sounds like 1991. Always. It’s so definitive to the era it wrought that it cannot possibly age in a way to sound anything new or timeless. This, of course, doesn’t diminish the genius that is Kurt Cobain. It’s a sad fact that when I sit down and listen to Nevermind I don’t feel like an adult, but like my miserable fourteen year old self.

A lot of it probably has to do with the fact that it sounds like Big Star. Remember Big Star? I talked about them some 46 albums ago. I talked about harmonies and melodies and Alex Chilton and the Replacements and even hinted at this album. See what I mean? It’s power pop! Power pop never ages.

Bandwagonesque grew better over the years due to the shiny indie pop timeless quality the band brought to it. It hasn’t aged, and it isn’t locked into a musical revolution. Even then, I had a feeling that twenty years after the fact, Teenage Fanclub’s modest success would somehow still trump the behemoth that Seattle wrought.

First off, any band that  mentions Status Quo without irony in a lyric deserves worship. Status Quo, that uniquely British three chords and a beer band that were once interesting but became so hideously mediocre as to embarrass the history of British music (“Pictures of Matchstick Men” is a cool little slice of quirky psychedelic pop rock from 1968, though). “The Concept” is also a Byrdsian jangle slice of pop in a year of sludgy, loud riffs. The song appears to be having a resurgence of some kind the last few months due to its prominent role in the somewhat depressing Charlize Theron movie Young Adult. I hope it leads to a larger appreciation of the band itself.

The album is full of sad little songs about broken hearts, some very interesting instrumentals ( “Satan” is all feedback and cymbals, “Is This Music” is all low bass lines and guitars that sound eerily like bagpipes), and a possibly the greatest simple love song ever written in the history of humanity.  For every “The Concept”, which dissects love to an aching degree, “What You Do To Me” is just two lines repeated over and over and over. For two minutes, intentions are crystal clear. There is no mistaking anything here.

Teenage Fanclub may be the band that usurped the dubious Spin  list number one, but they are way more than that. They are the torch bearers for a generation of power pop fans who respect metal and shoegaze as well ( “Star Sign” is essentially shoegaze funnelled through Alex Chilton, who was known to cover the band’s material often). They are songwriters of quality, with a great ear for melodies that stick in your head. I’d be happy if just one person would go and buy this album because they love the harmonies and melodies of this record from the samples played.

But beware about their catalogue. They are extremely uneven. Their first album A Catholic Education is really good, but Bandwagonesque‘s follow-up Thirteen is pretty dire. But so it goes. And so it goes.

This album is worth anything, though. It’s just that wonderful to listen to on cold, snowy, Canadian mornings like today.

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