This review of Teenage Fanclub’s new album, Endless Arcade, is predicated on the rubber-stamped, irrefutable assumption that Teenage Fanclub are the greatest band in the world. It’s a bold claim, but I think I can prove it on a pocket calculator.
Having said that, when Endless Arcade’s first single Home appeared on YouTube I was initially underwhelmed. The low key video might have had something to do with it but I didn’t have any pressing urge to watch it again. With this being the bands first release since bass player/vocalist/songwriter Gerald Love left, perhaps the guys just weren’t feeling it anymore? Maybe I needed to find a new favourite band?
Having lived with the album for a while, Home has grown on me – an extended album version with some stellar guitar work from Raymond helps – but I still think it remains a strange choice for their first single. In particular, it’s theme’s of a road weary touring band feeling homesick, “I sometimes wonder if I’ll ever be home again”, may fail to connect with an audience whose wild Saturday nights have recently consisted of a trip to the Starbucks drive-thru.
Endless Arcade definitely took me a couple of spins to properly warm to. The album doesn’t begin with the more immediate, catchy songs. The title track itself is a little bit of departure with a great discordantly dystopian synth interlude from new member and long-time collaborator Euros Childs who formerly worked with Norman Blake on the side project Jonny. It’s a really good track but I think I would have appreciated it more quickly if it had been placed between two of the catchier songs later on the album.
It isn’t really until the Raymond McGinley penned Everythings Falling Apart that I start to feel the usual Teenage Fanclub glow. The track has a real Songs From Northern Britain vibe with a similar lead style, understated synth, and a great bassline from Dave McGowan.
From this point the album seemed to open up for me and is really rather excellent. The Sun Won’t Shine on Me is quintessential Norman Blake, his sweetly plaintive vocals practical dripping with melody. Textbook Fanclub. Back in the Day is another really strong Norman song, again enhanced by some tasteful keyboard bubbling under the surface.
With Love’s recent departure, the remaining songwriters each have six songs apiece to play with. McGinley in particular seems to relish the space that this affords him. His songs have always had an enveloping, sort of rainy day vibe and this current crop of songs are particularly strong with In Our Dreams and album closer Silent Song being stand-outs.
For me, this has really been an album that really exceeds expectations. I started off not being too fussed about listening to it, but in the end I logged into my review link of the album so often that the label, PeMe, cut me off and I had to buy my own copy.
Sure, Gerry is definitely missed, but although Endless Arcade has the feel of a band reconfiguring and feeling their way in this new iteration it has plenty to recommend it. The current line-up is as good as it possibly can be, Euros is a great fit and drummer Francis MacDonald sounds particularly rejuvenated, sounding like a younger Catholic Education era version of himself. Endless Arcade departs slightly from the Teenage Fanclub template and that is refreshing to hear eleven albums in.
Endless Arcade is available now, via their own label PeMa