Teenage Fanclub Review
At 12am on April 30th, Teenage Fanclub released Endless Arcade, a LONG-awaited album preceded by no less than five singles and no small deal of hype. It had been postponed about four times this year and I stayed up for it. My brother was listening to the new Royal Blood album when I told him, and together we listened to these albums we’d been waiting ages for to drop. When all was said and done, Royal Blood had “absolutely murdered it.” Considering Teenage Fanclub is one of my favorite groups of all time, I wish I could have said the same.
Now, this review is going to require some tact. There are no bad Teenage Fanclub albums. In fact, such a notion is a concept harder for me to grasp than “Mothman”. Since 1989 this group--made up of Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley and Gerard Love--have been exporting work that, no matter what genre you’d classify it as, was beautiful and varying degrees of perfect. Even Howdy!, their weakest album bar-none, boasts the essential “I Need Direction,” and “Dumb Dumb Dumb,” and warrants a listen at least once a year… but Endless Arcade is a definite step down. Folks, what we’re dealing with is Teenage Fanclub’s worst.
As bands grow older, it’s easy for them to stagnate, but that’s never what these guys did. They went full “Big Star” in the early ‘90s before honing that beauty that was uniquely them through the late ‘90s and early-2000s, and from 2005-onward have lapsed into calmer, more relaxing pop that isn’t uncommon for bands of a certain age, but Teenage Fanclub always had that ear and panache that kept things interesting. Then, in 2018, Gerard Love leaves, and that’s when the whispers begin. The three main players had remained the same since 1989, and one of their departures signified something big. Now, until two years ago, I had no idea there was more than one singer in the band, and I listen to them all the time. On God. I wouldn’t cap about this. All of the guys, regardless of who wrote what, adopted the same downplayed singing voice and style, which created this cohesion that you didn’t even see with The Beatles. Looking deeper into my favorites though, I found Love’s stuff to be my consistent favorites. “Sparky’s Dream,” “Speed of Light,” and “Fallen Leaves” are all A+ songs, never mind genre… and his falsetto whisper was far more distinct that Blake and McGinley’s impression of each other ever was. He offered this goosebump-inducing departure from their songs, as good as those songs were.
The singles for Endless Arcade gave me hope though, Blake’s “Home” and “I’m More Inclined” were some of the best songs the group has dealt since 2005’s Man Made, and hearing of the fresh blood brought on in Euros Childs (lead singer for other poetic Scottish group, Gorky’s Zyngotic Mynci) seemed like a good ploy to keep this collective of songsmiths alive. And credit where credit is due: “Home” opens the album and does so perfectly. The album version in fact is nearly twice as long as the single was, clocking in at seven minutes and six seconds, but I was so at home in the music that I didn’t even notice--and “I’m More Inclined,” plopped right behind final single “In Our Dreams,” fits into the big picture like a glove. One of the big surprises to me was a 2019 song by McGinley’s appearance, and just how much more enjoyable it is in the context of the album. “Everything’s Falling Apart” is a slower song with a wonderful chorus, and while I’d known it for so long it was one of the few songs on the album that gave me goosebumps.
And that’s the big issue to me really. Teenage Fanclub consistently--and this is no exaggeration, don’t misconstrue me--give me goosebumps. Like my hair is raised several times listening to any one of their albums. Endless Arcade brought next to none of that power. Most of the songs here are above-average filler. The title track is one of the weaker ones here, in fact. “Don’t be afraid of the endless arcade that is life,” the chorus sings. That should tell you everything you need to know. Their lyrics are often simple, but never did I peg Teenage Fanclub to make the easy ploy of making their album title a metaphor for love or life. It’s too easy. It’s the coward’s way out, and I know they’re better than that. And most of these songs are just forgettable, apart from the singles--and even a few of those aren’t great! The one exception is a wonderfully bitter little Blake tune toward the tail-end called “Living With You.” It’s one of the highlights. It’s more downbeat than most of the band’s output, but Teenage Fanclub so rarely do these kiss-off tunes that any and all are welcome. Frankly it rules. It isn’t a fitting closer, but it’s far better than “Silent Song” is, which to my ears was forgettable and kind of bland. Perhaps it could have undergone a little reshuffling. It’s not really my place to say.
And on the off-chance that Teenage Fanclub are reading this, I’d just like to say that I love your stuff. I’m not mad… hell, I’m not even disappointed. While I may not have enjoyed the album as much as your other stuff, you guys have put out far more quality songs since Love’s departure than I ever thought would have been possible. I love your stuff, but such a shake in the lineup I can only imagine threw everyone off. I sincerely hope you keep at it, and hope that this is a lull between two great heights in your career. This thing is weaker than Howdy!. Sure. But I’d rather listen to a weak Teenage Fanclub album than a strong album from ninety-nine percent of your contemporaries, and 100 percent of your fellow bands who’ve been at it since the eighties. I sincerely hope that your arcade keeps trucking.