Best albums of 1991: #2 Teenage Fanclub “Bandwagonesque”

Teenage Fanclub is yet another band that I have MuchMusic’s “CityLimits” to thank for the introduction. And I know I’ve written about this very subject many times but it’s true. The late Friday night alternative music video show on Canada’s music channel was instrumental in my education, especially once I had set my sights on music from the left-hand side of the dial. The Fannies video for “Star sign” was what first caught my eye, the jangly psychedelics in sound and image had me tangled immediately and irrevocably in its hypnotic snare. Other videos followed, a few of which are below, and they found themselves on the video cassette tape nets in which I was collecting as much music as I could catch. So when MuchMusic started using the introduction from “The concept” as part the show’s opening, I smiled knowingly every time.

I learned much later that the band formed in 1989 in Bellshill, Scotland. Founding members Gerard Love, Norman Blake, and Raymond McGinley were all talented guitarists, songwriters, and vocalists in their own rights and each contributed mightily to the band’s finished products, especially as time wore on. But even in the case of today’s focus, the incredible third album, “Bandwagonesque”, each member listed above and even the drummer at the time, Brendan O’Hare, had their own written song(s) on the card that the writer sang on the recording and would take up the mike when performed live. (For you Canadian music fans out there, this might remind you of a certain homegrown band of east coast origins by the name of Sloan.) And not only did each sing their own songs but they also found voices on all of the tunes, harmonizing in a way that some might compare to The Beach Boys but those in the real know might liken to Big Star*.

“Bandwagonesque” was a huge leap for the quartet. Their two previous outings were practically throwaways, in-jokes and shambolic cacophonies. In fact, their sophomore album, “The king”, was hastily recorded and deleted from circulation the day after it was released. And the though the third album was still comical and taking humorous kicks at the music industry (just take a look at the name and album cover**), it shows hints at the maturity, musicianship, and longevity of group that still releases music to this day.

The album actually did just as well in North America as it did in Europe and Britain, a feat they were never able to repeat. Many of its singles hit it big on college radio and some even managed to latch on to the newly established Billboard modern rock chart. Indeed, “Bandwagonesque” placed highly on a great many music magazines’ end of year lists, famous placing number one on Spin Magazine’s list over “Nevermind”, “Out of time”, and “Loveless”. I can’t say I disagree with Spin’s assessment (though I am sure in hindsight their pick would be changed), as wouldn’t a bunch of artists that were influenced by the group, like Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, who released a cover of this complete album back in 2017.

My three picks for you from “Bandwagonesque” are all songs with which I fell in love through repeated plays of their videos but really, each of the eleven tracks on the album are pure noise rock perfection. If you’ve seen the cover and heard the name but never taken the plunge, get on it. You won’t be sorry.

”What you do to me”: “What you do to me… I know, I can’t believe. There’s something about you, got me down on my knees.” Those are the lyrics. That’s it. Granted, these are repeated throughout, some of the lines more than others. But these four lines really tell the story and evoke exactly the passion felt by one Norman Blake. The track is just a shade over two minutes with lots of rip roaring and crunchy guitars, hair hanging long over the face, masking the angst there, while the whole band gets involved with harmonies. And then, if listening to the version in the video below (which of course, was my introduction to this song), the band leads right into instrumental track, “Satan”, which is just an explosion and mess of instruments letting loose the passion previously restrained.

”Star sign”: As I mentioned above, Teenage Fanclub were jokesters, not taking themselves, nor anything, really, too seriously. Here, they poke fun at superstitions and good luck charms and astrology. “Hey there’s a horseshoe on my door; big deal. And say there’s a black cat on the floor, big deal.” But bassist Gerard Love does so with such verve and panache, you can’t feel beaten at, even if you might swear by these things. “Star sign” was the first track to be released off the album and was my intro to the group. The video reflected a retro 60s vibe but the sound was of its true time and space, reverb and feedback gives way to thumping drum fills and driving guitars and of course, plenty of harmonies. Powerful vibes throughout, man. Yeah, it stuck.

”The concept”: This very track, the six minute opener of the album, appeared at number seven when I counted down my favourite tunes of 1991 a few years ago. You can go back and re-read that post if you’d like, but I’m going to plagiarize a good part of it here: “[The song] starts off the album with a scream of feedback and that iconic first line: “She wears denim wherever she goes, says she’s gonna get some records by the Status Quo.” Its first two minutes set the stage for the rest of the band’s career, mellow rocker with jangly guitars just this side of fuzz and Blake’s gentle rock star vocals with the three part harmonies the band would become known for at the chorus. Between the verses, the guitars become just that much more raunchy and then, at the three minute mark, the song becomes completely instrumental and the guitars follow the drums into a loose jam, at one point, a violin bow is even brandished to further accentuate their point.”

*That’s a subject for a whole other post maybe…

**The album cover was designed by one Sharon Fitzgerald but once Gene Simmons caught wind of the moneybag motif, a cheque had to be written to acquiesce the Kiss frontman’s trademark.

Check back two Thursdays from today for album #1. In the meantime, here are the previous albums in this list:

10. Ned’s Atomic Dustbin “Godfodder”
9. Spirit Of The West “Go figure”
8. Chapterhouse  “Whirlpool”
7. Blur “Leisure”
6. Levellers “Levelling the land”
5. The Wonder Stuff “Never loved Elvis”
4. R.E.M. “Out of time”
3. Primal Scream “Screamadelica”

You can also check out my Best Albums page here if you’re interested in my other favourite albums lists.


Best tunes of 2012: #17 The Raveonettes “Curse the night”

<< #18    |    #16 >>

My friend Tim was raving to me about The Raveonettes for a few years before I finally got around to listening to them. I think it was their appearance on some late night television show in 2007 that was the gentle nudge I needed. I couldn’t tell you now which show it was because it was so long ago and I likely only landed on it by happenstance while flipping through channels. I distinctly remember that they performed “Dead sound” and finding myself swooning over their dichotomy of harsh and soft tones. I immediately went out in search of the album on which the song appears and found it on the band’s third album, “Lust lust lust”. So started the love affair that continues to this day.

Sune Rose Wagner and Sharin Foo originally got things going as a duo back in 2001 in Copenhagen, Denmark. They had formed a band around themselves for their first handful of albums but had given all that up by the time I caught up with them, realizing that theirs was the only input they truly required. Their dreamy noise created by a mesh of guitars, synths, and drum machines pulls heavily from the wall of sound ethos, triggering thoughts of The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth, and the usual pack of 90s shoegazers.

“Curse the night” is track three on The Raveonettes’ sixth album, “Observator”, which was conceived by Wagner in the wake of a bender in Venice Beach, California. The album is so named because the songs draw inspiration from his observations of the people and way of life that he was exposed to while there. Our song today was never released as a single but it stuck out for me immediately upon first listen and was apparently important enough for the band to warrant a music video being filmed for it. You can watch this for yourself below. It takes for its backdrops the empty streets of the duo’s home city and the filming of it in black and white certainly fits the song’s atmospheric and lonely mood (though the ending of video is quite the twist that I’ve never quite sorted out).

“Curse the night” is driven by a slow but insistent and unavoidable beat, virtual drummer boys leading the march. The guitars and washes form a fog that gathers and follows in close behind. The words are sung almost as a ghostly lullaby, twin sirens wailing at the night, Wagner and Foo blending seamlessly at the chorus, voices as one, making Foo’s solo on the verses sound all the more frail, childlike, and alone, perhaps a lost youth, abandoned and forgotten, ruing the cold and darkness and quiet of the late night in the city.

“I cry back, I feel the streets say
I’m holding on, someone else escaped“

For the rest of the Best tunes of 2012 list, click here.


Vinyl love: My Bloody Valentine “Loveless”

(Vinyl Love is a series of posts that quite simply lists, describes, and displays the pieces in my growing vinyl collection. You can bet that each record was given a spin during the drafting of each corresponding post.)

Artist: My Bloody Valentine
Album Title: Loveless
Year released: 1991
Year reissued: 2018
Details: 180 gram, gatefold sleeve

The skinny: Back on Thursday, I started a new series that I plan to drag out for full enjoyment because, yeah, I am counting down my favourite albums of one of my favourite years for music. If you love the early 1990s as I do, definitely check it out. But I will forewarn from you now, as I did on that same post, this iconic album by shoegaze noisemakers My Bloody Valentine was one of a handful of very influential albums that I just couldn’t make fit into my top ten. (Indeed, our fellow blogging friend at Aphoristic Album Reviews was nearly as surprised at this as I was.) However, rest assured that “Loveless” was very. very, very close to making the cut. It is an album of which that I liked only some of its songs back in the day but in the thirty years that have since passed, it has grown so much in my esteem, that now nearly every tune within is a classic. Indeed, I am very glad to have acted fast on the pre-order for this record back in 2018. I remember catching wind that that Kevin Shields was reissuing the group’s first two records on vinyl, doing the remastering himself using some esoteric analogue process that my own tiny brain can’t comprehend. Notwithstanding, it is a very sweet listen, intense and clear, well, as clear as it was meant to be. And the fact that the album cover arrived a little bent out of shape in the post doesn’t even bother me that much. The disc is perfect and that’s what matters.

Standout track: “Only shallow”