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Teenage Fanclub - Man-Made/Shadows [Reissues]

"Man-Made/Shadows [Reissues]"

Release date: 04 August 2014
8/10
Teenage Fanclub Shadows
31 July 2014, 09:30 Written by Joe Goggins
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If there’s such a thing as the perception of Teenage Fanclub in the popular imagination, it probably involves the LPs widely considered to be their classics; the likes of Grand Prix, Bandwagonesque and their debut, A Catholic Education, were all key in shaping their position as one of the most influential pop bands of the last two decades. Their later output, though, has been similarly excellent - the Glaswegians have a spectacularly consistent track record - and have perhaps flown under the radar by way of comparison, which is why it’s a treat to see that Merge Records, as part of their twenty-fifth birthday celebrations, are reissuing two of them - 2005’s Man-Made and 2010’s Shadows.

Man-Made saw a change of approach for the band, who had come full circle with the re-introduction of original drummer Francis Macdonald. They decamped to Chicago to work with producer John McEntire, and immersed themselves in a city that lent itself perfectly to the role the band were looking for from their surroundings; that of a laid-back creative environment. The results are evident in the songs themselves, which are scored through with a pleasantly lackadaisical sound; “Time Stops”, for instance, begins with gentle acoustic guitars and signs off on a noodling electric solo, whilst “Cells” and “Feel”, ticking all of the band’s signature boxes with their sharp melodies and rich instrumentation, act as buffers for the noisier “Slow Fade” and “Fallen Leaves”. Two B-sides from this era, “Please Stay” and “Falling Leaf”, are neat additions, but it’s evident why they didn’t fit first time around; a greater reliance on harmonisation and a little more roughness to the guitars means they now sit slightly awkwardly at the end of the digital version record - mercifully, it appears as if they’ve been left off of the vinyl reissue.

Shadows remains the band’s most recent full-length, and has them on slightly peppier form than Man-Made; that’s certainly the case lyrically, with Shadows shying away from its predecessor’s often gloomy outlook. Again, there’s a three-way split - four tracks each - between the group’s three songwriters, Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley and Gerard Love; it’s the latter who hints at a penchant for experimentation on Shadows, with “Into the City” an exercise in sixties, Brian Wilson-esque pop psychedelia, and ‘Sweet Days Waiting’ drifting along on the back of a gently-lilting slide guitar. Elsewhere, Love’s comrades revert to type - not that doing so is by any means a bad thing. On “Baby Lee”, Blake lures you in with jangling guitar and the Teenage Fanclub trademark, a deceptively simple hook, whilst “The Past” is built around little more than some gorgeously measured harmonisation. The inclusion of the superb “Secret Heart” B-side is a treat, too; expressive, chiming guitars solo over buzzing synths at the climax, with melodic vocals floating in and out.

As much as the reissues themselves are likely to remain firmly in fan-only territory - they’re being pressed to vinyl for the first time in the States - it’d be nice to think that they could achieve a couple of things; firstly, that Teenage Fanclub’s recent output is broadly comparable with their classic records, and accordingly deserve a critical reappraisal, and secondly, introduce this perennial cult band to a wider audience; there’s no reason why Man-Made and Shadows wouldn’t represent as accessible a starting point for the uninitiated than anything they put out in the nineties.

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