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Teenage Fanclub: Bandwagonesque

December 10, 2010

Today’s roll: 4 – 2 – 3.
Result:
Bandwagonesque by Teenage Fanclub.

 Making good on the promises made by their debut, A Catholic Education, Teenage Fanclub created one of the few timeless classics of the 90s alt-rock heyday. Aptly—and cheekily—titled, Bandwagonesque has weathered better than many of its trendsetting counterparts. Time and distance set it apart from the glut of post-Nirvana bandwagon jumpers revealing it to be a truly enjoyable set of fuzzed-out, Big Star and Byrds-inspired pop-rock ditties in its own right.

I remember being lukewarm on the album at the time of its release. I was a bit of a Cohen/Dylan snob at the time and the idea of a song repeating the one line “what you do to me” offended my lyrical sensibilities. I also found the feedback noise of tracks like “Satan” to be contrived and half-assed. I now think both are, if not brilliant po-mo statements on popular music, excellent examples of what a melodic-leaning rock’n’roll record should be. Infectious, rawkus, sloppy and finely crafted, it’s perhaps the definitive time-capsule of alternative rock circa 1991.

Over the years my “meh” feelings towards the album have slowly transformed into a begrudging appreciation and then into respect and even awe. Where Nevermind, Copper Blue and Dirty have started (or some time ago began) to sound like dated relics of the era, Bandwagonesque keeps getting better. It has even somehow remained relatively fresh sounding.

It could be due in part to their devotion to their classic-rock influences. Most of the songs on the album wouldn’t sound out of place played by a Neil Young or an Alex Chilton but with Kevin Shields snuck into their backing band.

I think that’s really the secret of the album’s success. Though it’s called Bandwagonesque, Fanclub aren’t really bandwagon jumpers. They didn’t write songs to specifically fit the alt-rock format, they wrote timelessly great, sticky, pop-rock songs (“The Concept“, “Alcoholiday“, “December“) which just happened to be produced with enough feedback, fuzzy distortion and washed-out noise to fit in with the day’s fashions on both sides of the Atlantic.

Put in human terms, Bandwagonesque is like that wallflower in your freshman French class you ignore, who blooms in senior year, becomes the queen of the prom and you spend the rest of your life secretly devoted to. Only I’m not secretly devoted to this album, I’m quite public about my love for it. In many ways this is the “first love” I judge all new noise-pop records against.

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