Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Bless Me Father, For I Have Sinned

I just don't get what's so wonderful about Teenage Fanclub.

My goal today was not to start some controversial discussion or get all of your backs up. I like the band...a little. It all started with this, a comment made last week by our good friend A Walk In The Woods--

"I'm a huge T-Fanclub fan. Surprised to not see them a little more in your mixes, knowing your Todd Rundgren fixation."

I don't hear that at all, AWITW.

What I have always heard in Teenage Fanclub's music is a band who can write some good songs, sing some nice harmonies, and emulate some of my very favorite bands but never quite knock one out of the park. Sacrilege to some of you, I know. I'm sorry.

Before I decided to write this post, I listened to "Bandwagonesque"...again. I think I do this once a year, usually after I make a passing comment about not loving TF and hearing it from someone about how crazy I am. (I used to do this with "Blade Runner." See HERE.) By track 5, it all started to sound exactly the same to me. I also put "Grand Prix, " "13," and "Howdy" in a playlist and listened on shuffle. Again, all very nice. But if I was being waterboarded, I couldn't tell you what I had just listened to.

Another frequent discussion I have, this one with our friend Jeff K., is what makes a power pop band good. Our pal Steve Simels will have plenty to add to this, I'm sure. For me, it can't just be the ingredients. I think back to the early days of Oasis and all of the comparisons to The Beatles. I wanted to beat every British music journalist to a pulp for making those comparisons. Ending a song on an Amaj7 chord does not make you sound like The Beatles anymore than playing a 12-string Rickenbacker makes you the new Byrds.

That being said, I ask you, Teenage Fanclub fans, please if you're up for it, suggest a Top 5 for me. Give me your 5 best TF songs. I want to know what I'm missing. And AWITW, give me three that you think sound like Todd Rundgren.


Anonymous said...

Dumb Dumb Dumb

Sparky's Dream

Mellow Doubt

When I Still Have Thee

Ain't That Enough

Tbh, I always found Bandwagonesque a gnats over-rated and never listen to 13, but GP and Songs From Northern Britain.

They're not one of my all time favourite bands but I do have a fondness for them - possibly because I'm a Glaswegian and frequently get the same train to the football as Gerry Love!

Steve Mc

Todd said...

Sal, Thanks for speaking up. I feel exactly the same - Pleasant music when it's on, can't tell you what played when it's over. Yet I have all their albums and buy the new ones when they come out because people whose opinion I value REALLY like them. (i have the same reaction to Sloan, but I'm afraid to tell anyone.)

Sal Nunziato said...


I did two prior posts that were similar to this one, where I asked for suggestions on what I was missing that so many were hearing. The other two- Robyn Hitchcock and Sloan.

buzzbabyjesus said...

I feel the same way about TF. I don't hear any Todd, either. I have all the records you mentioned. I'm very fond of their "Chords Of Fame", unlisted bonus track on "Thirteen". That's about it. Must be the song, not the singer. They are not Big Star, or even The Posies.

jeff k said...

Jeff gets new [insert powerpop band album] and hears track one and loves it. he then immediately:

Jeff email to Sal: You have to listen to [such and such powerpop band]. They're great!

Sal to jeff: [unenthusiastically] ok.

One week later, Sal to Jeff: They don't kill me.

Crushed again.

But here's the thing: Sal is inevitably right. Too many powerpop bands are like sirens. Their Cds are front loaded with their best stuff. The melodies grab you around the neck and shriek "listen to me" in your face. The problem is on repeated listens the material falls flat toward the middle or the end of the album, or, and too often this is the case, the band has not put the same work into the lyrics that it has put into its melodies.

But there are exceptions. Great power pop is the best car music in the world. Nothing can shake you out of a shitty mood than great power pop, so what is great powerpop?

To name a few: Fountains of Wayne, The Goldbergs, The Galaxies, Cherry Twister, Splitsville, David England, The Parallax Project, Phil Angotti, Brett Dennan, Cliff Hillis. Check out too a recent album by a guy named Timmy Sean.

A few of those might kill Sal. I mean that in a good way.

Shriner said...

Ooh, I'll take this challenge.

OK, first off, 13 -- comes and goes by for me like a ship in the night. I forget about it as soon as it's passed.

Grand Prix, though, is great. The high mark of the band, IMO.

A Top 5 off the top of my head (and a cursory look through iTunes):

1) StarSign (first song I ever heard and it's still great...)

2) Sparky's Dream

3) Verisimilitude (because it's a great word)

and I could pick many more from Grand Prix like Neil Jung or I Gotta Know...)

4) I Don't Want Control Of You

5) I Don't Care (4 and 5 from Northern Britain)

But, basically, I have the same comment about TF that I had about Robyn Hitchcock back in the day:

For RH -- if you don't like Element of Light -- you won't like anything he does (probably.)

For TF -- if you don't like Grand Prix, you won't really like anything they do.

THAT SAID: I do agree with Todd's comment that TF music is great (really, *really* great) when it's on, but when it's over, you've moved on to something else -- for me, Paul Weller albums are like that.

I don't go out of my way to put on the albums (apart from Grand Prix), but I never skip songs when they come up on my iPod.

But your post reminds me I need to go back to the TF catalog and put something on today. My problem with TF is I've *overlistened* to them (I tend to do that with some groups), so I don't go back to them very often any more. But now that I've resampled a few tracks, I realized again how much I love this band...

Sal Nunziato said...

Fountains Of Wayne are exceptional. Three songs on The Galaxies record are as good as anything written, period. I don't know David England or Parallax Project or Cliff Hillis. I feel about the others the way I feel about TF. Nice. But nice is just nice.

Examples of who I think are exceptional:

The Posies
Big Star
Matthew Sweet
Dwight Twilley
Jason Falkner

Shriner said...

Oh, and I would never categorize TF as "power pop" personally.

To me, they are a cross between The Byrds and My Bloody Valentine (if I had to make a odd comparison...)

TF is a lot like Sloan to me -- both bands are chock full of songwriting talent interspersed among all their members (Sloan with 4, TF with 3 songwriters...) If you don't like one song, there's usually another one coming along right after!

jeff k said...

Crushed again.

Shriner said...

From Sal's list:

The Posies -- agree

Big Star -- first two albums absolutely. Sister Lovers, less so...

Raspberries -- yes. Entire catalog.

Matthew Sweet -- for me, another pleasant,but forgettable. Girlfriend (most of it) is great.

Dwight Twilley -- same as Matthew Sweet

Shoes -- I keep trying, but don't get the love for this band that you and Simels have.

Jason Falkner - agree

What about The Knack? Seriously. A very, very underrated catalog from a band that had a *lot* more than "Get The Knack"

But I digress from the topic at hand... Songs from Northern Britain (which I'm playing now) is great, too... Bandwagonesque has not aged well. TF is not a band I can say I love their entire catalog, but the albums that are great, are really, really great...

Anonymous said...

Myracle Brah - Life on Planet Eartsnop

The Orange Humble Band - Assorted Creams

The Shazam - any and all

If you haven't heard 'em, please check them out.

Robin said...

I like them, I like them, I like them a lot. I do not love them. It's as if they are underclassmen and The Posies and Big Star are seniors. For me they are good with potential to be great but never quite make it, they're a bit "green". One song I truly love, it's been in my head all morning, even before I saw your post. "I Don't Want Control of You"... a song which actually reminds me of another band, but I can't think of who.

Oasis themselves thought they were the Beatles. Liam in particular.

A walk in the woods said...

This is a good one... glad to have sparked a debate. :) I do not expect to convince Buzz, and maybe not Sal, but I'll try...

Fortunately, the TF references several of you make are to Bandwagonesque and 13, and Grand Prix, ugh, all that early TF. (Agreed, Steve Mc - yuck) That makes my case easier, b/c I can't stand those records either - anonymous, unsubtle, radio-eager pop to me. We agree there.

It's later TF that I love.

My love of TF was crystallized by "Songs From Northern Britain" (containing.... possibly.... my favorite song ever, "Ain't That Enough"). That combination of power chords and uncertainty. But "Howdy!" is what locked me in. The first 4 songs just kill me, but it's the final song that you cannot deny:

If I Never See You Again

Then came "Words of Wisdom and Hope" with Jad Fair. I didn't love most of it, but there were bright spots... I think of it as a palate cleanser.

"Man Made" in 2005 got back on track in a big way - are you telling me you can really resist "Feel" or "Fallen Leaves"??


"Shadows" album from 2010 wasn't as good - but the side project "Lightships" is. The best of TF is just like the best of XTC, to me - that mix of melancholy and riffy that I love. (Same with XTC - don't like early stuff, love all late stuff). It's melodic, there's space between notes. For me it's both personal and communal.

How does all this relate to Todd? The power pop side of what he does - TF taking "Couldn't I Just Tell You" and making "Feel" instead. Also there's the "sensitive" side of Todd (Compassion, It Wouldn't Have Made Any Difference, Can We Still Be Friends, etc) that I see connected to songs like TF's "If I Never See You Again."

As for a TF top 5... easy:

1. Ain't That Enough
2. If I Never See You Again
3. Feel
4. I Can't Feel My Soul
5. Accidental Life

William Repsher said...

Only have four Teenage Fanclub songs on the iPod:

Between Us
Eternal Light
Everything Flows
The Concept

Their first album, which had a heavy Lou Reed/Velvet vibe, really grabbed me. As did "The Concept." But a lot of their stuff just seemed all right to me, not really exceptional. And I tried!

They always make me think of Del Amitri, probably because of the Scottish connection. And I have about 20 of their songs in the mix -- always perceived as more "adult contemporary" by the U.S. radio stations they got played on, but they were just a damn good pop-rock band, sometimes great. "Always the Last to Know" and "Kiss This Thing Goodbye" are as good as anything anyone else has done in the past 20 years.

Seek out the album Hillside by a British band called Arnold who never quite made it in the 90s. This album floored me at the time and still sounds reasonably good:


The Brits just grasp pop more intuitively than anyone else in the world does. (With some notable exceptions, but the times I've been deeply impressed by pop songs in my adult life, it's usually a British band.)

ASH On The Beat said...

I'm in tears. You are all dissing my favourite bands, I don't know how I'm going to get over this.

Jeff Matthews said...

I still enjoy Bandwagonesque start to finish. At the time I don't remember another power pop band that could kick serious sonic ass like TF - I saw them live on that first American tour and they were ear-bleedingly loud with great jangly harmonies coming out of a wall of 3 noisy guitars. Stripped down lyrics almost like the Ramones. The later albums lost their edge and their sonic hugeness for me. I like Sal's list of PP bands that stand the test of time, except for The Shoes.
To the list of great ones, I might consider:
Jellyfish (not entirely a Jason Falkner thing)
The Knack (someone already mentioned, and I agree)
Gin Blossoms (I don't know why they are dissed so often)
Cheap Trick
Plimsouls/early Peter Case
Redd Kross
The Records

Anonymous said...

I liked the first TFC album, but have only listened sporadically to the follow-ups. Like Shriner, I think of them more as a product of shoegaze than pop.

I can't remember the New Zealand pop scene getting a lot of attention here, but imho they were livelier versions of TFC. The Chills, The Clean, the Verlaines all had bigger highlights than a lot of the British 80's/90's bands. One of the best power pop albums was by the Stereo Bus, one of the off-shoots of the Jean Paul Sartre Experience. the three vids available - Hey Thank You, Touchdown, Birthday (tried posting links but i'm getting the html wrong)

Dr Wu said...

'Ain't That Enough'; 'The World Will Be OK'; 'Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From'; 'Neil Jung'; and 'Planets.
I've chosen songs which just have a fantastic vibe to them - excellent for a nice road trip or a Sunday morning. I'm a huge fan and found this to be a most challenging task. Love the blog and your insights. Cheers.

Anonymous said...

All of their songs sound the same to me. Same jangled, wimpy, I went to school mess puddles of wasted time and space. Like you were incarcerated and had to pretend it was something, just to keep your last grasp on some kind of plastic reality. Let's say we're groovy, mushy cubes of seafood.
Just my opinion :-D

Anonymous said...

Having a hard time understanding why no one has mentioned Marshall Crenshaw yet. The Toms is also a personal favorite. TFC not so much, but from the comments it looks like I should listen to Songs from Northern Britain just to be sure.

Dave said...

I'm with Blake. I've spent the last 45 minutes listening to Top 5 recs for TF, and the music doesn't move me much. But Marshall Crenshaw, to me, is a great artist. He has everything -- heart, melody, humor, musical chops, soul, and most of all, a love of craftsmanship and the history of popular music. I feel the same way about the Finns, too, especially in Crowded House. Or are they not considered Power Pop these days? Even among some of my favorite power pop bands and performers, it's hard to find whole albums I like -- I'd rather listen to most of them as singles on a mix tape. But Crenshaw and Crowded House mean much more to me.

Sal Nunziato said...

Dave and Blake--

The Finns, Marshall Crenshaw and Karl Wallinger (World Party) are three of my favorite artists of all time. They have, as you said Dave, "heart, melody, humor, musical chops, soul, and most of all, a love of craftsmanship and the history of popular music."

I just never considered them as "power pop." They each have songs that would fit nicely on a PP mix. But there seems to so much more in their songwriting and arrangements that sets them apart from the usual jangle and crunch associated with most PP bands.

Dave said...

You may well be right, Sal. Frankly, I don't feel a need for cover in the "power" part of the equation. I'm more than happy to say I'm quite content with "pop."