o the dust has settled on what used to be Creation Records, Sony has discharged its obligations to one of the label’s worthiest acts, Teenage Fanclub, and then cast them again into the cold lands of the unsigned and deal-less. For other acts, ones with more worldly ambitions or bigger egos, this might be a problem, but Raymond McGinley, Gerard Love, Francis McDonald, and Norman Blake just shrug their shoulders and decamp to Chicago to work with John McEntire on another record. Such sangfroid in the face of circumstances that have reduced lesser bands to petty bickering should be admired, but it’s got to be easier on the Fanclub than some—after all, this is as a wise man once said, “Same as it ever was” and that has to take some pressure off.
Oh, McEntire’s hand is felt, to be sure, especially after the undervalued Technicolor pop of Howdy!—there’s a warm, intimate glow to the arrangements here, and at first the simpler, rougher settings feel a bit underwhelming. Man-Made is, to be sure, the least immediate record Teenage Fanclub has made since Thirteen, but at a compact and finely-tuned forty-two minutes it avoids the flaws of that under-edited and under-cooked record and nestles itself softly into the heart of every TFC fan as another low-key modern classic.
But we are, let’s admit it, a cult following for a cult band. I wouldn’t say we’re easy to please, but I will admit that if this was just from some random new band I don’t know if I would have put up with the cheesy inversion of “Born Under A Good Sign” or the way McGinley’s voice gets comically low during the otherwise charming “Only With You” long enough to grow to love them. Both reward patience, as always, the former boasting one of the few exhibits here for the band’s increasingly satisfying guitar interplay, but the actual highlights aren’t nearly as attention getting, for better or for worse.
Norman Blake delivers, as always, the most immediately ingratiating songs, but the peak of his contributions is the way “Cells” starts out as if it will be another quiet acoustic guitar track before blossoming into something that shows a band like the wonderful Engineers actually owe quite a harmonic debt to the late-period Fannies. Opener “It’s All In My Mind” is a little by-the-numbers for Blake but “Slow Fade” harkens back to his great short songs like “Straight & Narrow” or “The Cabbage.”
Gerard Love is usually the most dependable songwriter of the bunch and here is no different, “Time Stops” and “Fallen Leaves” adding to his store of affectionately burnished chestnuts. But as it’s been for decades now, it’s Raymond McGinley who sneaks in with a few tracks that are, to be charitable, growers. And yet by the time “Nowhere,”“Feel,” and especially impossibly gentle closer “Don’t Hide” have wormed their way into your heart they are harder to dislodge than the songs of just about anyone else.
Which is an apt way to describe the band as a whole, of course. If you’re looking for something flashy, or big and clever or shocking or innovative or anything like that, well, you’re probably not interested in this record in the first place. But as Friedrich Nietzsche said, “It is easier to be gigantic than beautiful.” And as McGinley sings at the end of “Don’t Hide,” “I didn’t know that my life was wrong / Until the right person came along”. As with people, so with bands. Some of you out there are currently missing out on something that would make your musical life make a lot more sense, but have no fear: As long as you’re looking, Teenage Fanclub will probably keep making albums like this, which continue to elaborate on and expand their repertoire of the most heartwarming songs known to modern Western rock music. There are worse niches to inhabit.
Reviewed by: Ian Mathers
Reviewed on: 2005-05-11