Members include Norman Blake, guitar, vocals; Gerry Love (studied urban and regional planning at University of Strathclyde), bass, vocals; Raymond McGinley (received engineering degree from University of Glasgow), guitar, vocals; and Brendan O'Hare (born c. 1969), drums, vocals. Addresses: Record company--David Geffen Company, 9130 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90069. Fanclub--P.O. Box 41, Stretford, Manchester, M32 8AT England.
"Rarely has a pop group come equipped with a more perfect name than Teenage Fanclub," opined Los Angeles Times critic Steve Hochman, "not so much because it has teen fans, but because the group's members are fans of teens. Few bands have ever written with so much affection for the teen-age condition--especially the role that rock plays in it." The Glasgow, Scotland, natives mix the melodic, stylistically complex approach of classic British pop with punk's irony and distorted guitars. The result is at once earnest and distanced, sugary and hard.
Their major-label debut, Bandwagonesque, made Teenage Fanclub alternative-rock heroes and critical darlings. Spin deemed the record the year's best rock album and proclaimed, "This music makes your spine shiver." The Fanclub's 1993 follow-up, Thirteen, marked the band's further explorations into power-pop formalism, and though it elicited less enthusiastic reviews than had its predecessor, it displayed a band clearly growing into its powers.
Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley, both singer-songwriter-guitarists, played together in a Glasgow band called Boy Hairdressers during the mid- to late 1980s. When that band dissolved in 1989, Blake took a job in a music store, and McGinley pursued an engineering degree. Before long, however, they teamed up with bassist-vocalist Gerry Love--himself in the process of completing his university education--and Brendan O'Hare, a research assistant, longtime Hairdressers fan, and aspiring drummer, to form Teenage Fanclub. Their independently released debut, A Catholic Education, appeared on the Matador label in 1990 and was described by Rolling Stone's Chris Mundy as "a stunning genuflection to American indie strum and grunge." After generating a buzz with Education, the band made a splash at New York City's yearly New Music Seminar. Shortly thereafter, Geffen Records subsidiary DGC-- one of the most adventuresome of the major labels--signed them up.
Nonetheless, Teenage Fanclub released another Matador album, an instrumental collection titled The King, in order to meet their contractual obligation, despite having nearly completed Bandwagonesque for DGC. The hastily recorded King sold poorly; Matador head Gerard Cosloy was measured when asked for comment by Mundy: "I respect their desire to move to a major label," he insisted. "I just believe they should have fulfilled their contractual obligations." The band, meanwhile, asserted that they could not have survived any longer making independent records. "Gerard did a lot for us, but we did a lot for him, too," Blake said. "Most indie labels have major-label mentalities anyway. It was kind of a Catch-22 situation. We weren't going to be paid, but because of the record, we weren't entitled to unemployment benefits. What were we supposed to do?" Ultimately, the band and Cosloy were amply compensated by Geffen, and Bandwagonesque would improve Teenage Fanclub's fortunes even further.
Released late in 1991, Bandwagonesque scored on college and alternative radio. Demonstrating the influence of pop's master tunesmiths, notably the Beatles, Badfinger, the Beach Boys, Neil Young, and Big Star, the group indulged a penchant for songcraft when rage and bombast dominated the alternative scene. Mundy observed that while other alt-rock bands explored heavy metal, "Teenage Fanclub has actually peeled off its topcoat to reveal a Beach Boy-ish heart lurking beneath the flannel." Spin reviewer Jim Greer called the band "God's gift to college radio," adding the backhanded compliment, "Bandwagonesque pulls the kinds of moves you'd expect from a much smarter, more ambitious group of guys." The album earned the band a positive critical reputation and an enlarged fan base. Still, it spent only four weeks on the Billboard 200 chart, never moving past the 137th position.
A quote from McGinley in a 1993 DGC publicity release summarized the Fanclub's aim: "We're never intentionally indie or left-field. We always say it's really easy to make a record that's hard to listen to; we just want to make good pop records, whatever they might be classified as. We don't want to limit it or appeal to any specific market." Part of the band's renowned irreverence grew out of an unwillingness to adopt the rebellious, fiercely self-serious demeanor of many of their fellow rock bands. "To me, that whole thing of making a big ugly noise is a very middle-class thing," Blake noted to Shane Danielson of Melody Maker. "All that angst. I mean, working-class people generally don't bother with all that." Instead, the band's sound emphasized melody and structure, and its attitude has been playful and unpretentious. Thus, the backward-masked "message" on Bandwagonesque's "Satan" says merely, "God bless my cotton socks. I am wearing a blue shirt." As Blake averred to Rolling Stone's Mundy, "I guess it's nothing too Satanic." O'Hare evinced a similarly unfashionable niceness when he told Hochman of the Los Angeles Times, "None of us have any message for young people.... Um, look both ways before you cross [the street], don't be cheeky to your parents." The drummer went on to practically apologize, "We're not a very rock 'n' roll band. We don't take drugs and we don't try to corrupt young people. Sad, really, but true."
A highlight of the band's career came when they were afforded an opportunity to work with one of their idols, Big Star cofounder and songwriter extraordinaire Alex Chilton, with whom they recorded a single to benefit the victims of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. "We got on well with him," remarked Blake in the group's press release. "I think he genuinely likes us, because he's the sort of guy who if he didn't like you, wouldn't pretend that he did." The Fanclub enjoyed a collaboration of a different sort when they backed up rap group De La Soul for a track on the Judgment Night film soundtrack. "We'd never met them before," Blake said of the rappers in a Billboard interview. "We met up in the studio; we put down some drum tracks and guitar tracks, and they sort of rapped on it."
Perhaps the biggest challenge the group has faced was following up Bandwagonesque. Indeed, they found the task daunting; after its release, Love told Melody Maker's Danielson that he found the new album less "honest," mostly "because of the time involved: it took eight months, and we kept revising it, re-recording it, and just generally trying to improve it. We were getting paranoid, trying to outdo the last album. Producing it ourselves was probably a mistake: we really missed having someone around to say, 'That's okay--leave it.' To me it's a much more self-conscious, indulgent album." Blake agreed that perfectionism may have made their playing seem more mannered but insisted, "The songs definitely stand up." Thirteen was released in late 1993. "There's a Big Star song called 'Thirteen,' you know," McGinley reminded Billboard.
Reviews were mixed; Spin this time denounced the band for making "a fetish of smothering emotion under a blanket of stoic formalism." Rolling Stone, however, called the release "even sweeter than its predecessor" and lauded the group as "among the best recyclers [of power pop and bubblegum rock] around." Musician reviewer Rob O'Connor deemed Thirteen "great ear candy that we may one day learn is also nutritious." No longer the flavor of the month, Teenage Fanclub had distinguished itself as a maverick pop band more interested in melodic hooks and boyish harmonies than clamorous sound and fury. "It's funny," McGinley noted to Melody Maker, "just about the most radical thing you can do these days is write a song."
by Simon Glickman
Teenage Fanclub's Career
Blake (a music store employee) and McGinley performed with Glasgow band Boy Hairdressers, mid-1980s-1989; formed Teenage Fanclub with Love and O'Hare (a cancer research assistant), 1990; released debut album, A Catholic Education, Matador,1990; signed with David Geffen Company (DGC) and released Bandwagonesque, 1991.
- Selective Works
- A Catholic Education, Matador, 1990.
- The King, Matador, 1990.
- Bandwagonesque (includes "Satan"), DGC, 1991.
- (Contributors, with De La Soul) "Fallin'," Judgment Night (soundtrack), Immortal/Epic, 1993.
- Thirteen, DGC, 993.
- Billboard, November 27, 1993.
- Los Angeles Times, April 24, 1992.
- Melody Maker, August 28, 1993; September 25, 1993.
- Musician, December 1993.
- Rolling Stone, May 14, 1992; November 11, 1993; April 7, 1994.
- Spin, December 1991; December 1993.
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from DGC publicity materials, 1993.