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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; Francis MacDonald (left group, 1989; returned 2000), drums; Brendan O'Hare (joined group, 1989; left 1994), drums, vocals; Paul Quinn (joined group, 1995, left 2000), drums. Addresses: Record company--Merge Records, 409 E Chapel Hill St., Durham, NC 27701, phone: (919) 688-9969, website: http://www.mergerecords.com.
"Rarely has a pop group come equipped with a more perfect name than Teenage Fanclub," wrote critic Steve Hochman of the Los Angeles Times, "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 1991 major-label debut, Bandwagonesque, made Teenage Fanclub into 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, they were signed by Geffen Records' subsidiary DGC, one of the most adventuresome of the major labels.
Contractual Obligations Fulfilled
Teenage Fanclub also 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 The King sold poorly, and Matador head Gerard Cosloy commented to Mundy: "I respect their desire to move to a major label. 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. Blake said, "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 went on to improve Teenage Fanclub's fortunes.
Released late in 1991, Bandwagonesque was a hit on college stations and alternative radio, and it indulged a penchant for songcraft at a time 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." 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." 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. Instead, the band's sound emphasized melody and structure, and its attitude stressed the 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." O'Hare told Hochman of the Los Angeles Times, "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 in the band's career came when they were afforded an opportunity to work with one of their idols, Big Star cofounder and songwriter Alex Chilton, with whom they recorded a single to benefit the victims of the war in Bosnia-Herzegovina. 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 faced was following up the success of Bandwagonesque. The task was daunting. Thirteen was released in late 1993, and 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. ... 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 that "the songs definitely stand up."
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.
In late 1994 the Fanclub finished an extensive world tour and returned to the studio to work with David Bianco, the producer responsible for Frank Black's Teenager of the Year. Bianco brought a new sense of focus to the band, and the resultant Grand Prix was one of their most natural-sounding records to date. His production work was so well suited to the band that they brought him back for 1996's Songs from Northern Britain, which they recorded, strangely, in the Southeastern region of Surrey. They managed to complete the album, but not before they shouldered some unfortunate news. Chas Banks, the band's manager and close friend, became ill, and after returning to his hometown of Manchester, he became paralyzed from the neck down as a result of a spinal infection. The months to follow saw his partial recovery, but he never regained the use of his legs.
Despite this bad news, the Fanclub soon found themselves in the fortunate situation of inking a deal with Creation Records. The label picked up and released Songs from Northern Britain, and paid the band handsomely for it.
They followed up with Howdy!, recorded with friend and pop experimenter Jad Fair, but before they could release it, Creation's Alan McGee announced the label's demise. McGee, however, promised the band a spot on Sony/Columbia's roster, which released Howdy!, an album that received its share of moderate press. Writing in All Music Guide, Andy Kellman pointed out the band's penchant for recording similar records one after another: "Nothing here is going to knock you off your feet, but is that such a bad thing?"
Wisdom and Hope
Words of Wisdom and Hope was released on Jello Biafra's Alernative Tentacles label in 2002 without much fanfare. A couple of years later, though, Teenage Fanclub enlisted the work of Chicago-based producer and multi-instrumentalist John McEntire---the main man behind post-rock project Tortoise---and began recording at his Soma studio, a first for the band that had never recorded an album outside of the United Kingdom. Man-Made, considered by many as one of their best works, was released on their own PeMa label, as well as with American indie stalwart Merge Records. Rolling Stone's Barry Walters wrote, "Recorded in Chicago with Tortoise leader John McEntire, Man-Made shakes the quartet out of stasis with a crisp, contemporary slant on its dependable pop classicism."
The name of the record, more than anything, stands as a testament to the band's strong work ethic and persistence. And in the Chicago music community, they found kindred spirits. McGinley noted in their press materials that "there was no plan of what we were going to do or how we were going to do it---you just turn up and start working and get on with it."
by Simon Glickman and Ken Taylor
Teenage Fanclub's Career
Blake and McGinley performed with Glasgow band Boy Hairdressers, mid-1980s-1989; formed Teenage Fanclub with Love and O'Hare, 1990; released debut album, A Catholic Education, Matador, 1990; signed with David Geffen Company (DGC) and released Bandwagonesque, 1991; signed with Creation Records and released Songs from Northern Britain, 1997; signed with Merge Records and released Man-Made, 2005.
- Selected discography
- A Catholic Education Matador, 1990.
- The King Matador, 1990.
- Bandwagonesque DGC, 1991.
- (Contributors, with De La Soul) "Fallin'," Judgment Night (soundtrack), Immortal/Epic, 1993.
- Thirteen DGC, 1993.
- Grand Prix DGC, 1995.
- Songs from Northern Britain Creation/ Columbia, 1997.
- Howdy! Columbia, 2000.
- Words of Wisdom and Hope Alternative Tentacles, 2002.
- Man-Made Merge, 2005.
- 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, June 16, 2005.
- Spin, December 1991; December 1993.
- " Howdy!," All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (July 8, 2005).
- Additional information for this profile was obtained from Merge publicity materials, 2005.
Teenage Fanclub Lyrics
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