I can see the faces in the crowd as Teenage Fanclub launched into the first power chord of “The Concept,” the epic song that opens their landmark 1991 album, Bandwagonesque. The mouths taking the same shape in perfect unison to sing that iconic first line – “She wears denim wherever she goes/Says she’s gonna get some records by the Status Quo/Oh yeah…”
It was 2006, and they were there to see Bandwagonesque performed in it’s entirety as part of All Tomorrow’s Parties’ Don’t Look Back series. I was not there, but I can see it as clearly as if I was.
By 2006, the legend of Bandwagonesque was pretty considerable. Especially with the rise of blog culture, and internet magazines, Pitchfork, Stereogum, An Aquarium Drunkard, etc. more and more people found themselves with access to information about music that was likely to interest them.
Bandwagonesque is also the album that has the distinction of being named Spin magazine’s best record of 1991 – beating out both Nirvana’s Nevermind, and R.E.M’s Out of Time. More so than any of that though, Bandwagonesque is a record that you feel intimately aquainted with from the very first time you put it on. There’s a quality to it that makes it feel immediately worn in; the chiming guitars, the gorgeous harmonies, the simple yet perfectly descriptive lyrics all come together to create the effect of the ultimate comfort music.
Of course, the comfort music tag shouldn’t undermine what a remarkable achievement in sound Bandwagonesque really is. For as many nods as the record contains to 60s and 70s jangle pop pioneers like The Byrds, and Big Star, there is a dirtiness and raw energy that makes it sound fresh even now. I can only imagine what it would have been like to be in college in 1991, and hear something that was both so inviting and so raw. It’s a combination that many have tried, but few have achieved such great success with.
The real reason that Bandwagonesque stands out not just as a classic from 1991, but as Teenage Fanclub’s definitive work is how well it’s structured as an album. Re-listening to it as I began to work on this post I was amazed at how perfectly each song flowed into the next. From the aforementioned epic, “The Concept, “ which draws you in immediately to the lazy instrumental fade of “Is This Music?” that brings the whole thing to a close. The rollicking, noisy instrumental “Satan” could be seen as a throw away piece until you remember that it unfolds so pristinely into the gorgeous “December.” Elsewhere, “Alchoholiday” remains one of the most perfect pop songs ever written. And so on and so forth.
When I think back to my imagined crowd watching what for many of them is their favorite band performing their favorite songs – I can’t help but get phantom chills up my spine.
I’ve seen Teenage Fanclub since then, and seen them perform many of these songs, and it’s been incredible of course. Still to be reminded of the time when an album really meant something, and the songs were arranged as such is such special thing.
Everyone who has been able to experience this either live, on their hi-fis at home, or in their headphones exploring the streets of a new city should count their blessings everyday. Is this music? No, it’s so much more.
– Marion Hodges