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Review: Teenage Fanclub’s Endless Arcade Is a Welcome Reminder of Days Gone By

The album is a welcome, if predictable, reminder of the days when the guitar-driven verse-chorus song was king.

3.5
Teenage Fanclub, Endless Arcade
Photo: Donald Milne

Even at the height of their popularity in the early 1990s, Teenage Fanclub sounded like they were from another place and time. The Scottish band’s British-Invasion-via-Big-Star stylings found an eager audience in the post-Nirvana, retro-friendly ‘90s, but their brand of classic power pop has all but vanished from the music landscape. In an era of algorithm-driven pop, Teenage Fanclub’s 11th studio album, Endless Arcade, is a welcome, if predictable, reminder of the days when the guitar-driven verse-chorus song was king.

Not everything, though, is as it once was. Endless Arcade is Teenage Fanclub’s first album since the departure of bassist Gerard Love in 2018. For a band that’s thrived on the push and pull between three different songwriters, Love’s absence is a blow, even if Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley are still churning out structurally and often melodically impeccable pop songs. New keyboardist Euros Childs adds some overtly throwback textures to the mix, like harpsichord on “The Sun Won’t Shine on Me” and “Living with You,” and ‘70s-style synths on “Endless Arcade” and “Everything Is Falling Apart,” which nod to the Kinks’s Something Else and Wings’s Venus and Mars, respectively. But as usual, if Teenage Fanclub’s songs are stylistically derivative, the melodies consistently stand up to those of the band’s progenitors.

The retro tones are appropriate for an album permeated by wistful yearning for the past, most pointedly on Blake’s nostalgic “Back in the Day”: “With each new passing day/I see that old world fading away/I just can’t seem to find/The peace of mind that I knew back in the day.” On “Warm Embrace,” a two-minute stomper that sounds like it was plucked straight from the Who’s 1965 debut, My Generation, Blake sings, “Pale imitation of the life I knew/I’m all forlorn for the loss of you.” He could just as easily be singing about an old flame, his former bandmate, or even the classic rock that clearly still influences his songwriting.

Part of Endless Arcade’s melancholic tone results from McGinley’s increased songwriting contributions. He isn’t as naturally gifted a melodicist as Blake or Love, and his relaxed vocal style and tendency to avoid sunny hooks render a couple of his songs—namely “Come with Me” and “Silent Song”—a bit dull. On the other hand, as the band’s lead guitarist, his harmonic repertoire is less limited, and less predictable, than Blake’s. The title track in particular boasts an excitingly unconventional, almost disorienting minor chord progression during the verses before satisfyingly resolving to a more familiar G-D-E sequence for the chorus.

By far the best example of Blake and McGinley’s skill sets flowing together seamlessly is the opening tour de force, “Home.” Echoing “The Concept,” the kicker to 1991’s Bandwagonesque, the Blake-penned “Home” begins as quintessential dreamy power pop and eventually melts into a lengthy McGinley guitar solo that stretches the track out to over seven minutes. The fluid guitar work is never showy, but it’s filled with the same bittersweet emotion as the lovelorn lyrics: “I’ve been losing sight of what it means to be/And all this time I’ve been holding on/To our memory.” The ghosts of bygone days stalk Blake and McGinley throughout Endless Arcade, but then again, they’ve always been a little stuck in the past. Even as they grieve over the things they’ve lost, they remain committed to keeping some of them alive.

Label: Merge Release Date: April 30, 2021 Buy: Amazon

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