Glasgow’s Teenage Fanclub have never made creative leaps and bounds though they have earned a reputation as a solid band: you always know what you’re going to get with the new Teenage Fanclub record and Shadows is no exception.
Naturally, Shadows carries on from where 2005’s Man Made left off. Early on, the significance of the album’s title becomes apparent with the band sequencing the album in three and four- song cycles by Love/Blake/McGinley. In effect, has each songwriter in the band shadowing the other, and the stylistic variety that each member brings to the record becomes more and more apparent.
Gerard Love’s pulsating ‘Sometimes I Don’t Need to Believe in Anything’, which echoes The Boo Radleys’ ‘Wish I Skinny’, is a declaration of middle-aged apathy that sets out a base theme to Shadows. ‘Into the City’, which has the feel of a lazy, hazy Fifth Dimension-era Byrds, shows Love’s versatility as a writer. The album’s antepenultimate song, ‘Sweet Days Waiting’, winds the album down beautifully, with Love whispering an upbeat refrain of sweet, sweet days are waiting there for you.
The classic Teenage Fanclub song is in good health, thanks to Norman Blake. His acoustic power– pop songs add another, if natural, dimension to Shadows. Lead single, ‘Baby Lee’, is a definite nod to the pastoral folk of Songs From Northern Britain and its memorable chorus, predictable Teenage Fanclub chord progression and Blake’s voice are familiar ground to those who possess worn out copies of Bandwagonesque, Thirteen, Grand Prix and Songs From Northern Britain. ‘When I Still Have Thee’ finds Blake ploughing this ground again, and the humour and rhymes in his lyrics (Well, The Rolling Stones wrote a song for me/it’s a minor song in a major key) afford light relief from the darker material on Shadows, courtesy of Raymond McGinley.
McGinley’s songs are somewhere in between Love’s drifting melodies and psychedelic structures and Blake’s perfectly formed pop songs. Both ‘The Fall’ and ‘The Past’ revolve in a tight structure: both songs are seemingly connected, suggesting that the writer is trying to escape from the past, a history. The choruses of both ‘The Fall’ and ‘The Past’ almost become slogans by the time they finish, while ‘Living with the Seasons’ finds McGinely leaning towards Blake’s folk influenced songs.
The nature of cycles- life cycles, nature cycles, songwriting cycles- is an essential idea threaded through these songs. What is most admirable about Shadows is that Teenage Fanclub managed to make an album that, although a slight departure of sorts, sounds and feels like a Teenage Fanclub album that may very well be part of a late blooming of great work. As a band, Teenage Fanclub has managed to move forward without having to compromise their identity, maturing gracefully.