I see kaleidoscopic images, swirls of psychedelic color, a sunny day in San Francisco's
Golden Gate Park, with hippies everywhere, long-haired teenagers and twentysomethings
blowing soap bubbles at each other, doing cartwheels in the grass… Teenage Fanclub's
music brings back images of the mid-to-late '60s in the Bay Area, a hippie paradise
for a few years, before it all went to shit.
The group's sound is actually much more mid-'60s Byrds than late-'60s Moby Grape, but if you were actually there, you know that the sounds of the mid-'60s seeped into the late '60s, overlapping the acid-rock that followed Beatlesque jangle-pop.
At this point the group consists of singer/guitarist Norman Blake, singer/bassist Gerard Love, and singer/guitarist Raymond McGinley. For Man-Made they journeyed to Tortoise member John McEntire's Soma Studio in Chicago; McEntire produced and played keyboards on some tracks.
Man-Made continues the trend toward a softer sound that began with 1997's Songs From Northern Britain. The new album finds the group in Mr. Tambourine Man and Turn! Turn! Turn! territory for the most part. Still, they also clearly reference the Byrds hit "Eight Miles High" with the thrilling "Born Under a Good Sign," which even features a Roger McGuinn-styled free-jazz solo.
Highlights certainly include the opener, "It's All In My Mind," which rides on
a simple four-four beat, insistent rhythm guitar and the much-repeated lyric
hook, "It's all in my mind, it's all in my mind." But as with Songs,
pretty much every track sparkles. "Nowhere" brings to mind The Hollies' hit "Bus
Stop," while "Save" goes further retro, shimmering like Beach Boys summer pop
circa '62. The key line in "Feel" is "Feel the sunshine." And so it goes, with
each of Man-Made's songs referencing some glorious rock-pop/power-pop
sound of the past.
You could dismiss Teenage Fanclub as not being original, but that would be missing the point. Instead, appreciate a group that, in 2005, can create absolutely perfect songs that somehow manage to channel the magic of early-to-mid-'60s pop-rock. It's tempting to say that they just don't make albums like Man-Made anymore. Only that's not true; Teenage Fanclub are still making them. Thank God for that.