Teenage Fanclub - Songs From Northern Britain - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Teenage Fanclub - Songs From Northern Britain

by Sean Hewson Rating:10 Release Date:2018-08-10
Teenage Fanclub - Songs From Northen Britain
Teenage Fanclub - Songs From Northen Britain

When we left the lads they had, to my ears, hit a career high with Grand Prix. Raymond McGinley and Gerard Love had caught up with Norman Love and Teenage Fanclub had become the three song-writers with a drummer that they would remain until this year. I understand that this year’s gigs will be Gerard Love’s last with the band, so it is with heavy heart that I review my joint most favourite TFC album, Songs From Northern Britain. It came out in July 1997 and contained their biggest hit, Ain’t That Enough (no.17). The bonus tracks (available on a single) are Middle Of The Road (the b-side of I Don’t Want Control Of Me) and Broken (the b-side of Ain’t That Enough).

Songs From Northern Britain starts with Norman Blake’s Start Again. Like About You on Grand Prix it is a solid statement of intent. The sound is unmistakeably TFC but slightly more fleshed out. Like a lot of Blake’s songs there’s a cheeky trick thrown in (a bar of 2/4, I think). The hit single is next. A top Gerard Love banger with touches of Xylophone. It’s a summer pop song and deservedly went Top 20. Songs From Northern Britain showed the true dawn of Raymond McGinley as a writer. There were a few rippers on Grand Prix but everything he brings to Northern Britain is top notch. Can’t Feel My Soul has a great chorus lyrically (up there with Everything Flows) and melodically and some storming lead guitar. Next up is my favourite Teenage Fanclub song. I Don’t Want Control Of You is Blake dismantling romantic clichés. He doesn’t want to control his partner, he doesn’t want pain, he doesn’t want things to stay as they are. There aren’t many love songs written by men where the woman is described as an inspirational figure. Being Norman Blake, he messes with the bar length and sticks in a key change too. Blake then follows this career-high with another – Planets. A simple song about family and travel but with the vast cosmos appearing in the chorus. There’s a sumptuous string arrangement and what sounds like a Moog solo.

McGinley returns with his off-kilter jangler, It’s A Bad World. And it’s a return to the realisation of a cruel world after the romance and pop thrills of the previous songs. It is often McGinley that opens TFC albums up with changes of sound and direction. However, it’s still got a big chorus and another fuzz solo. The forward momentum of Love’s Take The Long Way Round follows. It’s classic Love, all chorus and light, a continuation of his fine work on Grand Prix. Winter brings more nature poetry from Blake, his sardonic, punning tone from earlier albums has gone. He sounds happy but his voice is still care-worn. The band’s closing backing vocals are faultless here (and throughout the album). Love and McGinley’s songs close out the album, starting with Raymond’s I Don’t Care. The title isn’t particularly inspiring but it’s quietly impressive. I’m not sure if Love is just playing the root notes on bass but something about what he’s doing fills the sound out so much. The lyric is quite Buddhist. The arrangement is packed with little ideas of percussion and synth. Northern Britain was the album where TFC really took their time in the studio and poured as much on the songs as they could.

Love’s Neil Young-esque Mount Everest is next. Its name is fitting because the song and sound seem big. The track is the longest on the album and is taken at a slower pace. Untypically for Love, there is no obvious chorus and he patiently lets the song unfold. Producer David Bianco lays down a bass line on the piano that is essential to the overall feel and it plays out with his piano line combining with a guitar solo. The penultimate track goes to McGinley with Your Love Is The Place Where I Come From. Another romantic track with more Buddhist inflections. The song is interesting because the bridge is a step up and the chorus a settling down. Speed Of Light closes out the album. Another Love banger with a great lyric and the sort of tug-at-your-heart chord changes that are central to what TFC do. There is also a lovely little piano solo from Bianco.

Songs From Northern Britain rightly went to number 3 in the album charts. At the time I was slightly disappointed by it as it seemed less effervescent than Grand Prix, but it is now the TFC album that I play the most. There is no filler, lyrically they are not hiding behind puns, they seem enthusiastic about having time to explore the studio and all the writers deliver equally. It’s sad that this year marks the end of this splendid song-writing and music-making partnership but their last album, Here, was a fine bit of work so maybe it’s wise for him to go out on a high.

 

 

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