Teenage Fanclub turns 21 this year, and it almost seems appropriate to begin thinking of the Glasgow jangle Pop outfit in terms of adulthood. The quartet’s early albums were noisy and frenetic evocations of their Scottish street heritage, burnished with a melancholy Pop melodicism and gloriously tilted by their youth. But by the time of 1991’s Bandwagonesque, Teenage Fanclub had settled on a more consciously assembled sound, channeling their hormonal angst through their appreciation of the shambling guitars of The Byrds and Big Star and the exquisite harmonies of The Beach Boys.
The gorgeously hypnotic Bandwagonesque delighted as many critics as fans (the album came out on top of Spin’s end-of-year poll, ahead of Nirvana’s Nevermind and R.E.M.’s Out of Time, and Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher dubbed TF the second best band in the world).
And while the band hauled out the occasional stumble along the way, the missteps never seemed like anything more than simple growing pains and merely served to enhance the qualities of the band’s triumphs.
Teenage Fanclub’s work in the new millennium has been the band’s most experimental, working with Jad Fair (2002’s Words of Wisdom and Hope) and John McEntire (2005’s Man-Made) to explore new parameters without going impossibly far from familiar Pop territory. On Shadows, TF’s first album in five years — the longest gap between albums in the group’s history — the band largely returns to the jangly baroque Pop that defined it a decade or more ago with some obvious maturation.
“Sometimes I Don’t Need to Believe in Anything” swells with Northern Soul emotion while “Baby Lee” and “The Fall” lilt with the passionate power of Big Star at their absolute peak. “Dark Clouds” is a lovely piano jaunt in the Left Banke vein, “The Back of My Mind” bobs along like a sophisticated Pop homage to the present-day Meat Puppets and Lemonheads and “Into the City” is the realized fantasy of a Brian Wilson/Alex Chilton summit.
Anyone looking for the adrenalized rush of Teenage Fanclub circa 1991 on Shadows is out of both luck and touch; bands don’t exist for 20 years by working the same corner, and Teenage Fanclub has grown up and on beautifully.