Teenage Fanclub - Bandwagonesque - Review
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critics' view

The pop-quiz fact everyone seems to know about the Glaswegians’ 1991 album is that Spin magazine anointed it the best of the year, ahead of Nirvana’s Nevermind, My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, Primal Scream’s Screamadelica and REM’s Out of Time. That was a shock at the time. Two decades on, it’s safe to say that this blast of jangly-fuzzy, shoegaze-tinted power-pop hasn’t since dominated the discourse of rock critics as much as other contenders from that interesting year. Yet it was always unaffected and likeable, and remaining the perennial underdog only makes it more so.

It may be odd to describe as "unaffected" an album which sees four Scotsmen all but replicating the sound of Big Star, with nods to other American icons such as The Byrds, The Beach Boys and Raspberries. Yet TFC committed to their passions unapologetically. If 1990’s tentative debut album A Catholic Education had hinted at what was to come only in Everything Flows, and follow-up The King had been a thrashy mess, their third was where they honed their riffs, galvanised their harmonies, and landed on a few hooks. Sure, many of these were borrowed from Alex Chilton, but Big Star was then a neglected entity. Creation (in the UK) and Geffen (in the US) ensured Bandwagonesque got heard, and as a by-product Big Star’s, er, star, rose again. TFC enjoyed US hits with Star Sign (more Swervedriver than Dinosaur Jr), the simplistic What You Do to Me and The Concept – and their California dreamin’ was a brief, blazing reality.

They never matched this for impact and deceptively cohesive punch. The Concept is an arresting opener, a twist of feedback drooping with practised sloppiness into a quirky, unforgettable couplet about a Status Quo fan and a dumb, delightful refrain broken by wailing guitar solos and near-choral harmonising. It makes virtues of its naivety and retro-stylings, charming you onside. There’s a curveball in the eighty seconds of faux-metal thrashing which constitutes Satan, but the pop chops return for the likes of December, Metal Baby and Sidewinder.

They were only reinventing the wheel, but Bandwagonesque keeps on spinning.

Chris Roberts
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The BBC's album reviews ended in 2013, although the pages are archived for retrospective reading.
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