Teenage Fanclub - Thirteen - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Teenage Fanclub - Thirteen

by Jeff Penczak Rating:7 Release Date:1993-04-10
Teenage Fanclub - Thirteen
Teenage Fanclub - Thirteen

A frustrating mélange of power pop, paisley psych, antagonistically aggressive noise, and the brilliant Neil Young tribute (sarcastically titled ‘Gene Clark’!), the multi-punned title of the Fannies’ fourth album (alternately referring to the number of album tracks as well as an eponymous Big Star song and one’s initial foray into “teenagerdom”) was sure to offend just about everyone who worshipped at the Bandwagonesque altar. Thirteen is their most experimental collection to date, its kitchen-sink approach to songwriting prompting head scratches and beard strokings amongst their most fervent fans, teenaged or otherwise.

Things get off to an inauspicious start with the metallic crunch of ‘Hold On’, which strangely marries Beach Boys harmonies to NWOBM riffage. The swelling string orchestral coda adds to the confusion. Matters don’t improve with perhaps the only song written about ‘Cabbage’, which sidles into the first of two album singles, ‘Radio’. A vibrant rush of enthusiastic yearning for a hit record, there are elements of Jonathan Richman’s ‘Roadrunner’ in its jubilant outbursts that espouse the boyhood (teenage?) dreams of listening to your favourite songs on the A.M. radio. Follow-up single ‘Norman 3’ is one of Norman (natch) Blake’s finest compositions (like most of the song titles, the enumeration is a mystery suitable for stoned, late night debates), with that eternal lyrical coda repeated for over half the song’s length over some of his wildest stringbending on record.

The first of bassist Gerard Love’s two Neil Young tributes, ‘Song To The Cynic’ is a sleepy stab at frustration with the music biz, further emphasized by Blake’s ‘Commercial Alternative’ and guitarist Raymond McGinley’s country-inflected namecheck of MTV’s alternative spotlight program ‘120 Mins’. His ‘Escher’ is even better, full of singalong chorus and more Big Star by way of Laurel Canyon harmonies. Neil and Crazy Horse rear their mangy manes again in Love’s ‘Fear of Flying’, which drops the F-bomb with such ease and aplomb that it may be just the coolest attention grabber in their canon full of such. It also continues the album’s main lyrical thrust which details the band’s struggles to capture and maintain centre stage in the weeklies, whether they want to or not.

The album winds down with the mopey love laments (typical of teenaged poetry and high school fumblings) ‘Tears Are Cool’ and the awkwardly titled ‘Ret Liv Dead’ (Twitter before its time!) before the completely superfluous nonsense ‘Get Funky’ almost pushes us over to the thumbs down side of the fence. But then, good ol’ Neil saunters onstage like a hurricane and before you can scream ‘Cortez The Killer’ Love drawls his homage to… ‘Gene Clark’? Like most everything about Thirteen, from its song and album titles to its neckbreaking musical aboutfaces, and intentionally mismatched, cheesy cover photo, the epic finale demonstrates that the Fannies will not be pigeonholed by fans or critics into repeating past glories. Even at the risk of preventing future ones.


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