Home Music Teenage Fanclub: Endless Arcade

Teenage Fanclub: Endless Arcade

Teenage Fanclub is a band defined by consistency. While they display slight variations over the course of their 32-year career, one could pick up any one of their records as a starting point and get a good sense of the band and their songwriting ethos. This consistency appeared to be upended in 2018, when founding member Gerard Love unexpectedly left the band. Love, along with fellow songwriters Norman Blake and Raymond McGinley, was integral to the band’s unique alchemy of songwriting perspectives. Given the loss of one of the group’s founding members, Endless Arcade presents as the answer to an unforeseen conundrum: how does Teenage Fanclub, as an artistic entity, move on from this? From what one hears on the album, it appears that the band hasn’t quite found an answer to that question yet.

Even with Love’s departure, one wouldn’t expect a huge shift in sound from Teenage Fanclub, and Endless Arcade doesn’t disappoint in that regard. The band pretty much picks up where they left off five years ago on Here, favoring a muted, uncluttered sound that places a focus on melody and the band’s ageless harmonies. In Love’s absence, Blake and McGinley split songwriting duties equally, and for the most part, neither seems interested in upending the core Teenage Fanclub sound in any way. However, upon closer listen, it’s clear the pair have introduced some new wrinkles. Opener “Home” ambles along the way many midtempo Teenage Fanclub songs have since Songs from Northern Britain, only to give way to an extended guitar jam that stretches the song to the seven-minute mark. It was enough to make me do a double-take and see if I hadn’t jumped to a Stephen Malkmus & the Jicks album by accident. Elsewhere, “In Our Dreams” reintroduces crunching guitar tones that used to be a staple of the band’s work in the early ‘90s but had long been abandoned. Moves like this don’t necessarily hinder the album, but they are curious and they end up underscoring one of Endless Arcade’s reoccurring themes.

Dark thoughts aren’t uncommon to Teenage Fanclub albums; indeed, their pop sensibilities and sugary harmonies often work to disguise some melancholy lyrics about love, loss and the passage of time. Endless Arcade, however, might be the darkest that Teenage Fanclub have felt since perhaps Bandwagonesque, only without the adolescent melodrama that was integral to how that album worked. Instead, Blake and McGinley (but especially Blake) sound resigned, unsatisfied with the state of their world but unsure of what can be done. On “Home,” Blake conveys a feeling of being lost and away from comfort while perhaps alluding to how he feels about his friend and bandmate’s departure: “Navigating the world with you/ Made me feel like me/ But endless lonely hours/ Saw you drift away.” Later on, Blake longs for the past on “Back in the Day,” though he eventually concedes that trying to make things as they were is a foolish errand: “I tried to reconcile/ The living now with the dying hour /I know I can’t get back to yesterday.” McGinley is generally the more optimistic songwriter of the two, and songs like “Come with Me” evoke a more traditionally sunny feeling, but even he feels it necessary to acknowledge that things aren’t okay. First single “Everything Is Falling Apart,” for example, frames its speaker and his beloved as a pair set against the horrors of society, their love acting as a shield from all the bad shit that’s happening around them.

Even though these songs find their writers in less-than-ideal places mentally, that state of mind doesn’t do a whole lot to change Teenage Fanclub in a significant way. Endless Arcade still ends up being an overall enjoyable addition to the band’s catalog, even if the absence of one of their founders can be felt. The workmanlike nature with which Teenage Fanclub approach what they do probably indicated that a significant shift in style was unlikely, but the unease present on this collection of songs hints at a group that is very much aware that the standard way of doing things may not be viable for them much longer.

Even though these songs find their writers in less-than-ideal places mentally, that state of mind doesn’t do a whole lot to change Teenage Fanclub in a significant way.
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