There’s a quiet heroism in a band like Teenage Fanclub, made up of three singer/songwriters and a drummer who not only co-exist but create baroque pop in a setting that doesn’t lampoon itself or become boring. Consider them a missing link in the evolution of music in between the alternative era of twenty years ago and its current incarnation, indie pop/rock. Other bands have tried to sound “important”, or that the music they made a couple decades ago could still be as meaningful today, and they’ve failed, terribly, for many times nothing less than trying too hard. They’ve become desperate and obsequious. Whereas Teenage Fanclub’s output has been an effortless transition, seamless, and (somehow) remarkably fresh.
This is largely because of the band’s timeless flavour, and their cohesion from the beginning. The chemistry hasn’t disappeared for their ninth studio album, Shadows, in fact it may be stronger than ever. The first single off the album, “Baby Lee” can attest to this, awash in 60’s pop stylings with rhythm guitars, strings and layered harmonies in tow. The album continues alternating between this sweet Byrds-inspired retropop (“Dark Clouds”) and more modern-sounding alternative music fare such as melancholy, mid-80’s era R.E.M. (“The Fall”), post-grunge melodic-rock (“Shock and Awe”) or even borrowing a page from Stephen Merritt’s book of quaint love songs (“When I Still Have Thee”).
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the band have been working on Shadows since late summer of 2005. The longest break yet between their albums coming in at just a little over five years. It’s got a polished tone, and feels like a record of great labour. And while this isn’t Teenage Fanclub’s best album, it is one of their most cohesive, and accessible simply because it’s well-written and not because it was designed with accessibility in mind. It feels like a band younger than they should be and completely in their prime, absolutely content with where they are now and where they might be going. They’ve never been a band that fed off negativity and despair, but lyrics like “There are sweet, sweet days waiting there for you,” take things a step further. This is an all-around joyful album that celebrates life the old-fashioned way, by lifting up the lives and love of those close to us, and it does it without a hint of schlock or irony and instead relying on a fantastic song set. A novel idea, and one that should land them on many critic’s top album lists.