Together now for more than a quarter of a century, Teenage Fanclub find themselves on the cusp of their 10th album and their highest chart position since 1997’s commercial highpoint Songs from Northern Britain.
Six years and several side projects on from 2010’s Shadows, Here finds the group settling assuredly back into the melodious groove that has served them well.
There’s nothing here as noisy or irreverent as their mid-nineties output, but with a trio of excellent individual songwriters in the form of Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley and Gerard Love, their melodic instincts are as strong as ever even as some of those rougher edges have been smoothed away.
If anything, with four songs from each songwriter there’s a sense that at times things are just a little too comfortable; a little too democratic, lacking some of the fire and drama that a surfeit of talented (and competitive) songwriters brought to say, Fleetwood Mac.
Instead Blake, McGinley and Love, together with drummer Francis MacDonald and keyboardist Dave McGowan seem perfectly happy gently supporting one another with refined arrangements that keep simple hummable melodies front and centre.
A couple of lyrics nod to a new political sensibility (“I don’t hear much fanfare for the common man these days”), but mostly the quintet stick to more gentle musings, from hazy nostalgia on ‘I Was Beautiful When I Was Alive’ to well, love on ‘I’m in Love’.
Indeed as the first track and lead single, ‘I’m in Love’ does a good job of setting out the group’s stall with a couple of seconds of jangling guitar giving way to a typically economical Teenage Fanclub melody, low slung bass, twin guitars and a hint of backing vocal.
Once upon a time Kurt Cobain dubbed them “the best band in the world” and while it’s hard to imagine Teenage Fanclub setting their sights quite so loftily nowadays, it’s hard not to swoon for the gorgeous, love-struck ‘The Darkest Part of the Night’, which ripples by on warm swirls of backing vocal and twin guitar solos like a twee Thin Lizzy.
When the horn line in ‘Live in the Moment’ duels briefly with an impeccable little melodic guitar solo, you can almost hear The Coral heading back to the basement, while ‘It’s A Sign’ will delight all those fans of Belle and Sebastian who are missing a new record in 2016.
Elsewhere there are touches of Syd Barrett in the Zen fingerpicking and crisp hi-hat of ‘Steady State’ while the expansive, Pink Floyd-like ‘Connected to Life’ ends the record with the band at their most wide-eyed.
Here is a record about the simple pleasures of being in the here and now and one that sounds as If its quintet of creators are gladder than ever for a band called Teenage Fanclub – we should be too.
Words: Max Sefton