TEENAGE FANCLUB: London Kentish Town Forum
(Taken from New Musical Express, 16 December 1995, Page 28)
Should you happen to care about affection and chrysanthemums and
heartache and damp bedrooms lit with a warm glow, then Teenage Fanclub
will not only stoke up your engine, but actually take you higher.
On the other hand, if your vision of society is one of maggots gathering
round for a nightly feast on disease ridden dead rats (Hello? - Ed) -
that is, if you're a cardcarrying misanthropist you'd want to have them
flogged repeatedly for selling THE BIG LIE.
Tonight, of course, Scotland's finest revivalists and revisionists
fall between both camps. Sure they can have you gasping away in
admiration for minutes on end at the awestruck loveliness of classically
written songs that shred hearts and seem like the simplest things in the
world. But then, in equal measure, your attention can wander from the
matter at hand to the 'kids' trying to convince themselves there's some
reason why they should like this mess.
Teenage Fanclub have been stuck, in terms of progress and the art of
writing direct. witty, pop identified songs, since the days of
'Bandwagonesque'. Which isn't to completely discount subsequent efforts,
but to point out they reached a crest, perfected a formula and have
contented themselves with making structural adjustments ever since.
Once you take your mind off the legions of fans, students, Riggers
socialites and rock'n'roll heads, and try to concentrate on the vortex
of the sometimes muddy noise, you'll find a yearning and an emotionalism
and some craftiness that reaches Alpine heights on the frosty,
tearjerking, unrequited lament that is 'December'.
The actual show has now been honed to comic perfection - in an
antishow kind of way, of course. Either Norman Blake or Gerry Love
precedes each song with a quip, a joke, an anecdote or an aside, and no
matter how pretty or devastating or nasty what follows, the jester
shrugs off the effusive applause with another barbed quip, another sharp
And TFC still shamble like the worst of them, playing the
self-chastising 'Don't Look Back' as if it had suddenly dropped into
their laps, or mauling the ever exquisite 'Star Sign' in a manner that
brings memories of The Allman Brothers to mind. The key is that, for what
it's worth, Teenage Fanclub clown around with professionalism.
However much these cheeky adults try to irritate you, you can't
completely hate them. Not when one of the three main songwriters - who
seem to compete to out-do each other in passion and plaintiveness -
declares to his lover that he'd "Steal a car to drive you home". Not
even when the song constructed around railroad imagery brings to mind
wide open American spaces, the opening up of the frontier, and the
annihilation of Native Americans that followed - simply because, with
its chug-chug boogie and exagerrated bass licks in tow, the song
eventually gets personal.
But then again, you could claim that, despite the cliched trappings
of rock'n' roll - or, at least its anaemic indie variant surrounding
Teenage Fanclub, no one should read any heritage or legacy or
philosophical bullshit into them.
Why? Because all they do is write great love songs and couch them in
a two-pronged guitar attack that still remembers what melody is, and, of
course, because they're the most unpretentious band in the world.
You'd only be partially right. For the fact remains that when TFC
are in their element - as often as not, on this occasion - they are
romantic poets of the highest order.