Having carved a career critically acclaimed career during the peak years of BritPop, by all rights Scottish power-pop guitar-slingers Teenage Fanclub should have been huge and the fact that they have achieved one solitary top 20 single in the UK (the utterly lovely “Ain’t That Enough”) and a trio of top 20 albums, including the fair-to-middling Thirteen, and the critics favourite, Grand Prix, says more about BritPop fans getting subsisting on a diet of the lowest common-denominator rubbish that they were being fed, than it does about the quality of Teenage Fanclub’s output.
Teenage Fanclub’s final top 20 album and biggest hit was 1997’s Songs from Northern Britain, which found the songwriting trio of Norman Blake, Gerard Love and Raymond McGinley at the height of their powers and stacking their harmonised vocals behind a wall of Blake and McGinley’s guitars and backed up by the complimentary drumming of Paul Quinn. As an album it’s not a million miles away from it’s predecessor, Grand Prix, but it a more refined release, with the group’s lyrics finding a new plateau of maturity, a way with melody that found that stand apart from their peers and their musicianship at its peak. It had been a long hard road from the guitar fuzz of 1991’s Spin magazine’s album of the year, Bandwagonesque, via the personality strengthening Thirteen, to the mercurial Grand Prix (an album that to this day I feel I should love much more than I do) and finally to Songs from Northern Britain. This was the album where the band reflected on all the lessons that they had learned to date and gave it their best shot to put out an album of absolute brilliance that would capture the hearts and minds of a music fans that had been listening to lesser acts for far too long.
The opening “Start Again” signals a renewed focus and sense of purpose, and the fact it is followed up by the band’s biggest hit single (the aforementioned “Ain’t That Enough”) only underlines Teenage Fanclub’s determination at this point in their career. Any album that contains timeless songs like “I Don’t Want Control of You” and “Your Love is the Place Where I Come From” can only be the work of an act at the top of their game. It is for reasons such as this that I find Songs from Northern Britain to be Teenage Fanclub’s most rewarding album. It is the album that found them at the very height of their powers and the one that should have convinced music fans to turn away from their more knuckle-dragging label mates for good and embrace the brilliance of this truly great guitar band.
It didn’t happen though. While Songs from Northern Britain charted well, Teenage Fanclub couldn’t maintain the level of commercial success, regardless of how great their subsequent albums were and when Creation Records folded a few years later they got lost in the shuffle when a series of record labels just didn’t know how to promote them.
They deserved better than that.