After all the acoustic lilting scattered across their previous trilogy of albums, Teenage Fanclub returned after a five year gap with a gentle fuzz and buzz on 2005’s Man-Made.
From the outset, on “It’s All in My Mind” and “Time Stops”, it’s clear that there’s a more reflective mood to Man-Made than the cheery optimism of yore.
And I flatter to deceive
My life is going fast
It’s make believe
It’s not so much an album that expresses, openly, the warmth of its happiness, more an album of wanting, longing:
Say you’ll come ’round and watch the dark go light
To be near, to realise more time to talk
Oh if we had more time to talk
It’s the fading Autumn light to the summer picnic of the albums before it. Or, it could just be Man-Made represents the growing older and growing maturer of three song-writers. Between Howdy! and Man-Made Teenage Fanclub had released Words of Wisdom and Hope (a collaboration with Jad Fair) and “best-of” album Four Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty-six Seconds. Going back to Songs From Northern Britain, it’s only the band’s second studio album (excluding that Jad Fair collaboration) in eight years.
Clearly no-one is in much of a rush to get this stuff out there, and that’s another vibe that pervades Man-Made. Even when it threatens urgency, as on “Fallen Leaves”, lyrics are delivered with a sense of “but, you know, whatever” hanging in the air after them. Returning drummer Francis MacDonald keeps it reined in, refusing to let an insistent guitar solo run the song out of reach.
See a simple spark
Bleed a burning flame
And it feels so now
Everthing’s so near
Oh, come on over
The future’s here
There are jazzy almost soulful hints to “Save”, the kind that you might normally expect to find on a Lambchop album, and an almost anarchic (by the controlled standards of Teenage Fanclub, at least) series of piano interruptions to “Born Under a Good Sign”, a song that seems to mark that time in the studio when produced John McEntire wasn’t watching and they let all that otherwise restrained, pent-up energy spill out into the track.
These last two are, of course, Gerard Love compositions. Along with “Fallen Leaves” and “Time Stops” they make for another impressive quartet of driving/driven melodies from Love. Over the course of reviewing these albums, he’s gradually stood out as the writer whose songs have the most impact on me.
I’m not exactly struggling to find the right words here, but I’ll level with you: reviewing each of Teenage Fanclub’s albums back-to-back it’s becoming increasingly difficult to find new ways to describe the effect of listening to each album. How many different ways can you say “here’s another suite of sweet life-enriching, controlled, softly embracing, gently uplifting power-pop songs and ballads”.