“The Concept” (Bandwagonesque, 1991) – “She wears denim wherever she goes / Says she’s gonna get some records by the Status Quo, oh yeah…” So starts one of the first and most-loved singles that’s representative of their early sound — loud, fuzzy and melodic. The way Norman Blake hits that “yeah,” going down an entire sixth — people just don’t do that in songs. And only groups such as the Beach Boys produced harmonies of such quality at such a young age.
“Star Sign” (Bandwagonesque, 1991) – Bassists usually have the best ears for melody — why I have no idea, but Gerard Love is another in a long line of them. After playing with us with guitar effects for over a minute, Love takes off at 80 mph, but the descending bass line keeps up with it, and Love mimics the line with his own unforgettable melody. It’s surprisingly sophisticated for a third album.
“Hang On” (Thirteen, 1993) – The song begins like another one of their feedback-laden jam sessions from their first album, A Catholic Education, and you start to roll your eyes and swear to never play it in front of your mother, but about 30 seconds in, it modulates out of control and builds a la “A Day in the Life” until it blossoms into a melodic phrase sung by Love. They give us more full harmonies in the chorus that have you running to get your own four-track and do it yourself. This is a surprise, and it only hints at more to come by the group.
“About You” (Grand Prix, 1995) – Teenage Fanclub is known for their strong starts, putting powerful songs at the beginning of their albums, and Raymond McGinley’s first attempt at an opener is classic: Three-part harmony, easy words to sing along — it’s one of his best and deserves to open one of their greatest albums.
“Getting Real” (“Mellow Doubt” single 1995) – One thing Teenage Fanclub took great care in designing was their B-sides. They put out many singles and loved to come up with songs that stood with them; many of the band’s true treasures can be found by simply flipping the record over. Love’s “Getting Real” is only 2 minutes long, but it packs a punch. He sings, “Got me in a real-life situation / Even though the world is fakin’.” Well, they sort of rhyme, but there’s no doubt, there’s no fakery in the musicianship here.
“I Don’t Want Control of You” (Songs from Northern Britain, 1997) – Eclectic and sweeping, “I Don’t Want Control of You” grabs you by the heart and doesn’t let go for 3 minutes and 8 seconds. With Byrds=like vocals and acoustic touches, it’s the group at its most vulnerable, which probably didn’t endear them to their hardcore fans at the time.
“Near You” (Howdy!, 2000) – So beautiful. I’ve talked about the complexity of Near You before, but my words don’t do it justice. From the flowing lines of the piano to Love’s plaintive cry, “I get near you but I never seem to reach you,” it’s a perfect pop song, and one that should get more attention in their catalog.
“Dark Clouds” (Shadows, 2010) – Blake turns baroque with this graceful piano-driven ballad. With gentle touches of strings, he paints an uplifting, motivating picture as he promises, “Dark clouds are following you / But they’ll drift away / I watched the night turning into a day.”
“I’m In Love” (Here, 2016) – A grown-up, mature sound from a band in their 50s, “I’m In Love” is a warm ode to stability and complacency. Blake sings, “Well, it feels good with you next to me / That’s enough, that’s enough,” and the song evokes the uplifting mood of being in love. A true treasure.
“The Darkest Part of the Night” / “I Have Nothing More to Say” (Here, 2016) – Two more songs from the Here album accidentally hint at Gerard Love’s departure. For the group, it is the darkest part of the night, as Blake sings on this acoustic ballad, and Love responds with an atmospheric painting that is so unlike anything the band has ever done. Add in McGinley’s latest single from the group, “Everything is Falling Apart,” and these three songs typify the state of the band. Here’s hoping they’ve worked things out and continue to make music.
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