Teenage Fanclub - Howdy

Teenage Fanclub

Released 2000 on Columbia
Reviewed by Dave Furgess, 25/12/2007ce

1. I Need Direction
2. I Can't Find My Way Home
3. Accidental Life
4. Near You
5. Happiness
6. Dumb Dumb Dumb
7. The Town & The City
8. The Sun Shines From You
9. Straight & Narrow
10. Cul De Sac
11. My Uptight Life
12. If I Never See You Again


Norman Blake-guitar, vocals
Gerard Love-bass, vocals
Raymond McGinley-guitar, vocals
Paul Quinn-drums

I first encountered the music of Teenage Fanclub in 1990 when their debut album "A Catholic Education" was hot property in the underground rock scene. At the outset many people in the press compared them to Big Star. I never really saw that myself, I thought their sound was much more in the style of The Jesus and Mary Chain minus the machine shop noise. Big things were expected from the band when the were signed to Creation Records in the UK and Geffen in the USA.

Their debut major label record "Bandwagonesque" (Creation 1991) was well received by critics but I myself was deeply disappointed with the record, sure it had a few decent tracks but the majority of the album came across to me as pretty uninspired. Following the album the group issued a few 45's that were certainly pleasant enough but seemed to be treading water artistically. The band's next album "13" (most likely named after a Big Star ballad) saw the group almost totally go down the drain, this effort was trying very hard to echo the group's musical heroes such as Big Star, The Byrds & Buffalo Springfield, but to my ears they weren't even coming close. It was at this time I decided to abandon the group and write them off as another UK flavor of the month. When the Teenage Fanclub's next album "Grand Prix" came out in 1995 I decided to pass on it despite the glowing press it received, that was a decision I would live to regret, because somewhere along the line the group decided to stop trying to emulate their heroes and just be themselves.

Fast forward to the year 1997, during the Christmas season a friend gave me a copy of Teenage Fanclub's 5th album "Songs From Northern Britain" (Creation 1997) to me as a Christmas gift. I tried to look pleased to receive it and promptly filed it away without even listening to it, I had pretty much forgotten about the group at that point. But one day in 1998 I was going on a car trip so I decided to bring "Songs From Northern Britain" with me on the ride and give it a fair shake. As soon as the record (tape actually) started I was hooked by one fantastic song after another. I listended to it time after time during a 225 mile round trip journey to Pittsfield, Mass., by the time I reached home I knew every note of the album and I was grinning ear to ear. TFC had finally gotten it right and there was not one single bad track on the album. Right afterwards I ran out and grabbed a copy of "Grand Prix" and was also knocked out by that record, I surely gave up on the group too soon.

So by 1999 early 2000 I was eagerly awaiting to hear a new Teenage Fanclub album and my wait was rewarded handsomely with TFC's 6th album "Howdy" which was issued in November 2000 on the group's new home Columbia Records. "Howdy" is the band's finest hour and just one eyelash shy of being a flawless pop materpiece. It is instantly apparent that TFC had taken a quatum leap in songwriting ability and dynamics since their previous album. The opener "I Need Direction" is simply breaktaking and just dig those background vocals (shades of The Association or Strawberry Alarm Clock.) This number is composed by bassist Gerard Love who contributes several gems to the album. The following number "I Can't Find My Way Home" (not the Blind Faith song) is handled by guitarist Ray McGinley and is nothing short of out of sight! Norman Blake keeps things burning with his shimmering "Accident Life", this record is beginning to sound like the first Moby Grape album with every group member delivering nothing but first rate material.

Gerard Love delivers 3 more knockouts in "Near You", "The Town & The Country" and the beautiful Beach Boys-like "Cul De Sac." Ray McGinley holds his own with "Happiness", "The Sun Shines From You" and the spectacular "My Uptight Life." While Norman Blake chimes in with the wonderful "Straight & Narrow" (only Teenage Fanclub could write a heroin OD song that sounds uplifting!) Blake also supplies the album's somewhat reflective closer "If I Never See You Again" & "Dumb Dumb Dumb" which I didn't like straight away, but has really grown on me. What I really love about this album is it's postive upbeat mood, in a decade where every group out there seems to be whining about how misreable they are, "Howdy" cuts through the fog like a razor.

At this stage of the game Teenage Fanclub seem content to exist in their own universe and only venture out now and then to deliver another classic then disappear in the sunset. In some ways they remind me of The Monkees in that is almost impossible to be depressed when listening to their music. The world needs more groups like Teenage Fanclub, more power to them!!!

Note-Teenage Fanclub's followup to "Howdy" (not counting the Jad Fair album and their greatest hits package) was 2005's "Man-Made" album for the USA label Merge. While not quite as spectacular as "Howdy" it's pretty close, and certainly worthy of your attention.

Here are some other records you may enjoy in a similar vein:

1. The Beach Boys-Sunflower (Brother 1970)
2. Moby Grape-Moby Grape (Columbia 1967)
3. Badfinger-Wish You Were Here (Warner Bros. 1974)
4. The Shoes-Black Vinyl Shoes (Black Vinyl/PVC 1976)
5. The Sunnboys-The Sunnyboys (Mushroom 1981)
6. The Undertones-The Positive Touch (Ardeck 1981)
7. Creme Soda-Tricky Zingers (Trinity 1975)
8. Dwight Twilley Band-Sincerely (Shelter 1976)
9. The Beachwood Sparks-When We Were Trees (Sub Pop 2001)
10. The Nazz-Nazz Nazz (SGC 1969)

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