Review Summary: Teenage Fanclub come back five years after Man-Made with an album that can easily be described as "guilty pleasure."
Simplistic power-pop meets sixties pastiche - yep, it's the same-old-same-old from Teenage Fanclub. On their latest album, Shadows
, the band is as comfortable as can be with many things, most notably their retro-pop sensibilities and sugary hooks, a synthesis that just oozes that summer fun feel. Positivity infects all within its grasp, like the constant barrage of hooks and the simplistic, guitar-driven instrumentation; as well, the peppy and upbeat pop exercises seem to influence anything surrounding it. Each of the songs feel like slap-happy refinements of what the band has done for what seems like eons now. Ten releases in and their still churning out these lovable guilty pleasures, because that's what they are, really: guilty pleasures.
It's a fact written all over the album's tracks, probably because of the constants: mid-tempo rhythms; tame, if charming power-pop; and lastly, the accessibility. All of these elements can make for a perfectly fine pop album, and a lot of the time on Shadows
, they do. But what about the variables? Are these unexpected throw-ins half-thoughts or commitments to be something more
? Well, I really wish I could answer this question, but to be quite frank, there's not enough of anything unexpected on Shadows
to answer it. There's not some undeniable experimental force waiting to be unleashed - there's not even that sort of quirk that makes you giddy inside. You can tell, of course, that it's Teenage Fanclub who made this record; there's not a case of mistaken identity going on here, but there's still a very serious case of conformity. While the album throws in some short-lived and somber strings, some half-baked psychedelic melodies, and some other genre-trimmings here and there, either A.) not much is done with them, or B.) it's reflected a bit too much in power-pop for it to truly stand apart.
But here's another thing to take into consideration when listening to Teenage Fanclub's latest (the next statement really goes for all of the band's works, though): is it about invention? Not really. Is it about hooks? Is it meant as a recreational listen? Hell yes. If you're looking for a memorable tune to hum all summer long, don't miss out on "Sometimes I Don't Need to Believe in Anything" and all its engaging Beach Boys reminisce. Another jolly tidbit's the combination of poignant major chords and clear vocal lines on "Dark Clouds." Of course, this track's ending violin cry sounds too manufactured and tedious for its own good, while the ending guitar harmonies on "The Back of My Mind" sink into the mix as an insignificant half-thought rather than a powerful moment. These are probably both results of the modern production ethic, but these moments come up far too often and become frustratingly unassuming. The only true sign of a shaken-up Shadows
is the closer, where rustic guitar melodies overlap in folk-meets-country form. It's also one of the more resplendent and embracing moments on the record, coming off as warm and inviting rather than a trite attempt at eclecticism. Speaking of, the little genre-bending on this record is done in a very simplistic and accessible way, which, in this context is undoubtedly a good thing. Psychedelic guitars bounce around on "Into the City," but the track is still pop
, sounding more like ‘60s mania than a ‘70s jam session. Tenor parts hark back to the days of "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand," but never does it come off as a foolish rendition. It's more like a bouncy and energetic expansion on the idea - flawed of course, but still just as fun fun fun, and best in the hot summer sun. That goes for the album as well: good for summer and all that, but once it's over, you'll surely find your way into better music that doesn't scream the words "guilty pleasure" nor "fad." There's still no excuse to pump it out occasionally for the next two months, though.