herald

Wednesday 20 September 2017

Let the sunshine in

It seemed appropriate that the glorious weather last weekend coincided with the arrival through my letter-box of Shadows, the new album from Teenage Fanclub. Despite hailing from Glasgow, a city where the sky is generally even lower than it is in Dublin, they conjure up images of sunshine whenever I hear them.

Certainly the influences of The Byrds, Big Star and the Beach Boys chime through their work, but the Fannies also hit an amazing streak of form across three fantastic summers in the mid-90s. Their 1991 breakthrough statement Bandwagonesque, where they went from being an endearing if shambolic indie band to serious contenders, and its expensively recorded follow-up Thirteen two years later still stand as fine records but, given that they were both released in winter, I associate them with standing in the freezing cold queuing up outside McGonagles and the Tivoli.

Not so with Grand Prix which glided gracefully towards the ears of a grateful public in May 1995 and formed the soundtrack of that sizzling summer. That album's opening salvo of About You, Sparky's Dream, Mellow Doubt and Don't Look Back is one of the best of that decade and showed how having three excellent songwriters in the band, in Norman Blake, Gerard Love and Raymond McGinley, can be handy.

The following year, when Euro '96 was in full swing the band worked on the follow-up. Arguably their masterpiece, Songs From Northern Britain was broader in scope soundwise yet still crammed with glorious songs.

If you were to press the matter, I'd be hard pushed to argue against the proposition that in Ain't That Enough, I Don't Want Control of You and Your Love is the Place Where I Come From you have the best songs that, respectively, Love, Blake and McGinley have written.

Shadows has arrived five years after they recorded Man-Made in Chicago with Tortoise mainman John McEntire, and showcases 12 songs from supreme pop craftsmen. The three songwriters -- and drummer Francis McDonald -- are again on fine form, with the songs boasting twists and turns which are vaguely familiar but still enchanting, while the harmonies are as sublime as ever.

The fact that they're no longer on a major label is more an indication of where the music industry stands these days than a reflection of the worth of the band.

There'll always be a place in my heart for the Fannies, a place where the sun always shines.

Teenage Fanclub play the Academy on Sunday. Shadows is released next Friday.

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