“Don’t you just want to eat it all?”
It’s not, in a musical context at least, a question I’m asked very often. Once in fact. And the “all” in question wasn’t Bandwagonesque, Teenage Fanclub’s second (third if you include The King, and yes I’m even boring myself with my insistence on mentioning it) album and early masterpiece. But the subject of my friend’s gluttony at the time is not strictly relevant. The reason I bring it up (believe me, no pun intended) is that it’s a very neat expression of how, at its peak, when you’re under its spell, music can make you feel. The music you love the most, the music you can’t help loving, can make you happy, sad, angry, euphoric… the precise emotion is up to you: no-one can tell you how to feel, but there should always be a lack of control over part of that response.
When a lyric makes you smile but you can’t quite figure out why. When a musical moment gives you a chill or makes you want to start crying for no apparent or logical reason. When you just want to listen to the next song even while you lose yourself in the one that’s currently playing. When you wish you could listen to a whole album at once.
When it finishes and you fumble for the remote control and feel for the play button.
When you’re supposed to be writing a review of one of your favourite albums of all time, and you end up just listening to it, lost in thought, and realise you’re just going to have to play it once more and maybe, just maybe this time you’ll have enough brain for both.
She wears denim wherever she goes,
says she’s gonna buy some records by the Status Quo.
Oh yeah… oh yeah.
Then again, when the album is Bandwagonesque it opens with “The Concept”, and if we’re sticking with the food analogy, this song is practically a meal in itself, albeit one that has to be savoured not devoured. It’s a three part paragon of power-pop: a 70s rock section leads into a dreamy sequence of “ahhh-ahhh”s more beautiful than a young indie fan could have thought possible in late 1991, before a mind-melting guitar solo brings it home.
“The Concept” sounded incredible enough without knowing much of A Catholic Education at the time. To hardened music hacks who would have known that album but also would have been familiar with Big Star, the gap – the chasm – from Teenage Fanclub’s debut to this must have seemed a confusing mix of the completely familiar and the utterly unexpected.
What seems like a blink of an eye later I’m singing along to “I Don’t Know”, waiting for that loopy, bendy lead guitar to rise and fall over the crunchy distortion of the rhythm guitar, and look I’m sure there’s a better way to put that, but ohmygod “Star Sign” has already started, its pulsating intro has been and gone for a second time, and the relentless melody is all over me.
Do you know where you belong
And is your star sign ever wrong?
Love’s bass and McGinley’s lead guitar work wonders through “Star Sign”, pairing up to create the song’s addictive melody, while more crunching guitar underneath provides the inward tension that holds the piece together.
Then there’s “Metal Baby”, “Pet Rock”, “Sidewinder”, “Alcoholiday”: all largely cut from the same cloth, but hey – when you’re on a roll why fight it? Somewhere in the background a guitar rumbles, every now and then there’s a little lead-in and then an explosion of sound or a solo, while the boys sing about girls.
But it just sounds a lot like Big Star, people have complained. (Or, “it sounds like Status Quo”, as I was once told. Fair cop, I was listening to “What You Do To Me” at the time). Well isn’t that a shame – one of the many bands to cite Big Star as an influence, but the first to truly mimic their template, and Big Star having blown themselves over and out in two to three albums. There’s nothing wrong with wearing your influences on your album sleeve when those threads look this good on you.
Finally, some important admin: it’s often said that Spin magazine selected Bandwagonesque as its album of the year for 1991. So far so true. It is often also said, however, that Bandwagonesque took this accolade at the expense of Nevermind. Not quite true: it took the award at the expense of Nevermind and every other album released in 1991. For the record, Nevermind finished third behind Out of Time, yet I don’t hear anyone going on about how Bandwagonesque won “instead of” Out of Time, or how R.E.M. somehow ousted Nirvana from the not very coveted first of the losers spot.
What we should be saying, perhaps, is “blimey – that’s a pretty decent 1-2-3, isn’t it?”. Except for Nevermind, that is, which probably belongs a bit further down the list.
Spin has since lost its bottle and tried to backtrack from what was patently the correct decision back in 1991, talking up Nevermind, while not doing the same for Bandwagonesque, and I’m sure that’s motivated by pure love for the Nirvana album, and in no way a pathetic and craven attempt to fall in line with the views of the many and a desire not to appear as a cultural outlier.