Yet another casualty in the mega-label war to enhance the bottom line, Scotland's Teenage Fanclub continues to create appealing melodies for the discerning music lover accustomed to special ordering their audio fix. Perhaps best known for their 1991 album Bandwagonesque, Teenage Fanclub emerged from the label shakeups to release Howdy, twelve enjoyable and deceptively simple songs with four songs penned by each of the three members. "Three?" you mumble through a mouthful of Teddy Grahams. "I thought Teenage Fanclub was a quartet?" Yes, discerning music connoisseur, you are correct but drummer Paul Quinn left the band after this album was recorded, hence the three fellows on the cover.
Much like the happy title, each track bears a smiling disposition, a cheerful retro sound that harkens back to the late sixties. Although none of the songs are overtly derivatory (that is, nothing screams that it was ripped off from The Beatles - in fact, very little can even be labeled "Beatlesque"), these songs comfortably feel like they've been with you for years, like you have safe, contented memories of childhood activities accompanied by these songs. There are no heavily overdriven guitars, no jarring rhythms, and no singers that appear to be getting over laryngitis, just gentle, soothing melodies with appropriate and tasteful backing music.
"The Town And The City" is a good example of what Teenage Fanclub is capable. Chiming bells herald an upbeat, peppy melody backed by vibes, trumpet, piccolo trumpet, and plush background vocals. Boasting vocal harmonies similar to Moody Blues (which are found in copious amounts throughout the album), "Straight & Narrow" gently plays with the listener's perception of what the rhythm should be. Sounding like it came from Matthew Sweet's 100% Fun album, "Accidental Life" weaves innocent melodies in a tapestry of Hammond organ, gentle vocal harmonies, and impish violin. Spacey effects and lots of piano introduce "Near You", a sweet love song with delightfully noisy guitars, tuba, trumpet and French horn. An early favorite (and still reigning champion) is "I Need Direction". Soaking in a brine of candy-coated, unabashed pop goodness and backing vocals a la The Turtles big hit "Happy Together", Hammond organ and tastefully restrained guitar augment the solid and memorable melody.
With a timelessness and unparalleled accessibility, Howdy! is a vintage ride through a feel-good power-pop revival. Enjoy the likes of Big Star, The Byrds, The Spongetones, Matthew Sweet, or The Posies? Me too! Add this album to your collection post haste and we'll do lunch to discuss… say noonish?
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, February 2002.