My first taste of Scottish power-pop band Teenage Fanclub was the sparkling tune of Sparky’s Dream on late night MTV, about the time when I was around 15. It was a very pretty song, but to say that I was not ambivalent about my brother’s obvious adoration for the song, along with What You do to me, would be lying. Around the same time I heard an interesting song by the Manic Street Preachers the name of which slips me at the moment, and to me they all sounded rather similar. So I clumped them together as derivative power – pop bands trying a bit too hard to sound pretty.
Eventually I gave a spin to Bandwagonesque, which was their breakthrough as well as their most unanimously acclaimed album( although I found out later how wrong that consensus was, as most consensuses are). I still wasn’t mightily impressed, still getting the feeling that though they were sincere in trying to create great beatlesque melodies, they simply weren’t turning out that good. The track that stood out for me was the relatively unknown instrumental and last track on the album, Is this music?. Let’s be honest, that’s the only track that sounds fresh and original, as well as featuring the best melody on the record.
Nevertheless I liked Bandwagonesque, and upon reading about the band was especially intrigued by the unusual distribution of songwriting responsibilities, roughly equally between three members. But if they were ” three extremely bright songwriting talents” as the general opinion of critics was, I had yet to experience it. So, which album came next? Grand Prix , they said, was the fannies at their peak. They were right in that it is certainly tons better than Bandwagonesque. What I had read told me that Norman Blake was generally the most prominent of the songwriters, but I fell in love with Gerard Love and Raymond Mcginley’s compositions, especially the former. To me Norman Blake makes the most typical pop songs of the three, with the other two being more eccentric in their approach. And this has led some people to believe that Blake is the best of the lot, which couldn’t be more wrong. I loved Mcginley’s feisty opener About You, Love’s perfect Don’t Look Back and Blake’s pensive and brilliant Mellow Doubt.
Alas, on repeated listenings a major part of Grand Prix , instead of growing on you, becomes tiresome. It is luscious, well – crafted pop that always sounds good, but is lacking in pure emotion, coming off a lot of the time as all craft and no gut-level inspiration. But I knew that theirs was a craft that gets better with time, absorbing the emotion of their collective experiences as they matured as songwriters, musicians and human beings.The songs were already classy, and I hoped, as I pondered the choice of my third Fannies’ album, that time would have added the much-needed edge.
And so Howdy! it was, released in 2000. And ah, it is so good, I think to myself as I write this while it is playing merrily on Windows Media Player. The traces of sappiness and sugar-coating is completely gone, the hooks are triumphantly better than before, and instead of being all happy-happy, the fine music here is imbued with genuine wistfulness and poignancy. Here, finally is some modern power-pop that may prove timeless. It seems that the Fannies got better as they matured after all. My faith was redeemed.
And as I look ahead to the prospect of listening to more pristine latter-part albums by these consummate masters of melody, life seems good. Cheers to music!