27 January 2014

Teenage Fanclub - A Catholic Education

A lesson in the history of Teenage Fanclub: formed in 1989, they were part of the emerging C86 scene that originated in Glasgow, Scotland.  At the beginning their sound was a mixture of grunge, Big Star riffs, Beach Boys melodies and The Byrds.  Over the years, they have mellowed out and have became more interested in the lighter side of their musical leanings, but when this came out it was a different story.  Released in 1990, it was just ahead of the grunge tide that would take over the musical landscape around that time; with the fuzzy indie guitar they were lumped in with the grunge music by the British press (mind you, so was Ned's Atomic Dustbin just because they wore knee length shorts) and whilst they have some similar features to grunge, this was as close as their sound ever came to it on the whole.  Anyway, I've started to jump ahead of myself; this was their debut and is held as a very dark and abrasive piece of work compared to what would follow.  Now, let's find out if this is the case?

Starting with "Heavy Metal" you have an instrumental which is so far away from metal is might as well be called wood.  But as a piece of music, I love this; it has a cracking solo in it through the entire song and it is has all sorts of natural breaks and dropped beats that you don't get in the pro-tooled era. Next is "Everything Flows" which can be seen as the genesis point of their later sound.  It has that Big Star/Beach Boys vibration and the sunshine feeling that would later become their trademark (albeit with a bit more fuzzy guitar work). Their vocals are not quite at the right pace, but it all adds to part of the charm. Then you have "Catholic Education”, which like "Heavy Metal" has a second cousin later on in the album.  This is a damming condemnation of the Catholic Church and all of its activities, done to one of the most cheerful and poppy ways I have ever heard. "Too Involved" follows on with its attempt at repeating "Everything Flows", it is not quite as good, but it is still like a sun beam in the middle of a summer storm.

"Don't Need A Drum" slows the mood, slowing down the pace and bringing everything back into a natural indie vibration.  If I'm honest, it does not help the mood of the record as they had not started to get this type of song right.  It is a good effort and as always, for an indie band they can crack out some of the best solos I have ever heard.  "Critical Mass" is another fun filled number of love and bile, done in a style that would make the Crue wonder who has been into their back catalogue of lost lyrics.  Following on from that is the duo of "Heavy Metal II" & "Catholic Education 2"; "Heavy Metal II" is more of a Soundgarden riff than metal itself, however they were the most metal of the big grunge bands anyway.  It is another instrumental affair that is a pleasure on the ears.  Then "Catholic Education 2" picks up were the first one left off with in its attack on the "Catholic Church", full of frantic energy and a great sense of purpose that make it one of the highlights of the album.

Then "Eternal Light" comes and goes, once again having a go at the established religions and the end of people's lives.  Even after a few plays it still just drifts into nothing.  They would later perfect this type of song, but this is not the best example of their work.  Then they go back to the faster type of song with "Every Picture I Paint", it makes misery so much fun and jumpy at the same time.  Ending the album is the short and dark "Everybody's Fool"; it brings the album to a strange ending that is again a proto-type of what was to come.

As a debut, this is a great album; but I think that some of the history on this is slightly misleading when they say it has metal all the way through.  This is not the case; it is just the beginning of their journey into the power pop/indie that would be their signature.  It is a little bit rough around the edges, but that is what happens when a band is starting out.  It is not their best work, I will give you that; but it is one of their better albums and would go onto influencing many other bands out there now.  It is worth checking out and should be high on the list of anyone who has an interest in the early indie music scene from the 90's.

7.5 out of ten - This is good and well worth a check

Top Track - Everything Flows

You can purchase one of the versions of the album on Amazon here

You can visit the Teenage Fanclub website here

Here is a link to the album on Spotify

Here is a link to the album on Deezer

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