Album Review: “Songs From Northern Britain” by Teenage Fanclub

Sweet, sweet melody. Glorious fat melodic guitar. Love songs for long-lasting marriages. Pop songs to hug a wife to.

Songs From Northern Britain is a domestic pop album. It is music that comes from people who sound happy, satisfied, and grateful for what they have – three traits that were grossly uncommon in rock music in 1997. It’s an album that marks Teenage Fanclub’s transition from a power-pop-grunge outfit to a full-blown sweet kiss band for sweet couples, a transition that would only deepen with every subsequent record released since.

It’s a transition that makes sense to me. As much as I love Bandwagonesque, hearing the Fanclubs sounding like a bunch of hip longhair grungers doesn’t jive well with me. Youth and insecurity don’t become them. Songs From Northern Britain refashions the band as a group of good-hearted grownups, doggedly releasing 60s-esque guitar pop records year after year with little or no regard to current trends in popular music. That, in a nutshell, is how I want to forever view Teenage Fanclub: a bunch of old Scottish men nobody cares about.

This is not to say Northern Britain is tame, or boring, or monochromatic. It is twelve beautiful pop rock songs emboldened by clear, strong production and lovingly melded vocal harmonies. For an album swathed in domestic bliss, there is an unexpected sense of immediacy here – “Start Again” wastes no time in grabbing the listener. Hooks latch on to you and don’t let go. Songs hit the heights of sweet pop glory (the straight-up Byrds tribute “Ain’t That Enough”) and downplayed subtle grace (“Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From”) with equal aplomb. Songs From Northern Britain is the rare kind of comfortable pop record that doesn’t make you think, “well wasn’t that nice?” There’s more to it than that.

Worth mentioning – there are three songwriters/vocalists in Teenage Fanclub. I didn’t realize this until I read a few reviews mentioning it. They’re one of the few bands I’ve seen that started off having one primary songwriter (in this case, Norman Blake) and gradually blossomed into having three individually-credited songwriters sharing equal tracks on every album. Norman Blake, Gerard Love and Ray McGinley each get four tracks here, and they sound so thematically in-sync with each other that it’s almost uncomfrotable.

As far as I can tell, Fanclub records after Songs From Northern Britain skew in a more low-key, comfort-food direction, which is fine. They are only getting older, after all. In the meantime, please enjoy the following six-year video time jump:


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