Friday, November 6, 2009

Teenage Fanclub- Bandwagonesque (DGC/Creation, 1991)

Spin magazine named Bandwagonesque the best album of 1991. I wasn’t reading Spin in ’91, but I did see Bandwagonesque reviewed in Playboy (which, apparently, I read for the articles, and not just the best-ever Girls of the Big Ten spread). There was this brief period in time – just a few months, it turned out – when major label alternative rock didn’t suck and really good ex-indie bands were getting massive exposure via ultra-mainstream channels. Teenage Fanclub even got to play Saturday Night Live! With a roster that also included Nirvana, The Posies, Sloan, and Sonic Youth, DGC was angling itself to be the Sire Records of the ‘90s, and for a moment it seemed that 1991 really was going to be the new 1977. Well, we know how that turned out! But Bandwagonesque is still a great album.

Critics who called the Glasgow quartet on its blatant Big Star thievery were only half-right. True enough, the Chilton/Bell influence is almost comically transparent throughout TFC’s sophomore long player. Yet it somehow rings fresh, thanks in no small part to the dense guitars and stormy feedback that typified the first wave of “grunge” music. And as a pop record, Bandwagonesque holds up marvelously to 18 years (God! Am I really that old?!) of repeated spins. The harmonies are drop-dead gorgeous, the melodies are instantly memorable, and the songs are consistently good. Norman Blake’s six-minute opus “The Concept” is like the power pop “Freebird”, while Gerard Love’s “December” foreshadows the pristine Byrds-y pop that would become the band’s specialty in its later, “mature” years. “What You Do To Me”, with its inanely simple lyrics and razor-sharp hooks, is the kind of perfect pop song that ought to be easy to write, but clearly is not.

For all of its overt Big Star/Badfinger classicism, Bandwagonesque sounds totally 1991. It's one of our finest time capsules of post hair metal, pre Pearl Jam alt-rock, yet it’s the superb songcrafting that keeps it in my CD player. And for exactly that reason, TFC is still going strong today, on the eve of 2010.
-Josh Rutledge

1 comment:

Angie & Howie said...

Whenever I am asked my favorite top 10 albums of all time... this album is always in there. A shining classic at a time where grunge was king and pop harmonies were a thing of the past.

Angie G-W