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Teenage Fanclub: Howdy!


Teenage Fanclub

Album: Howdy!
Label: Thirsty Ear

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Of all the acts to have benefited from early-'90s hype, few receive as little credit for their best work as the Scottish band Teenage Fanclub, whose excellent 1991 breakthrough Bandwagonesque still sounds great a decade later. Building on the buzz generated by 1990's near-classic A Catholic Education, Bandwagonesque appropriated the instantly identifiable sounds of Big Star and The Byrds while still operating within its own distinctly ramshackle framework. The years since have been less kind, with Teenage Fanclub cranking out a succession of increasingly polished, faceless, and little-heard albums. The weakest to date, 1997's Songs From Northern Britain, barely registered as existing, while 2000's Howdy! experienced a remarkable 14-month gap between its European release and its inauspicious debut on U.S. shelves. It's hard to imagine such a low-key trifle inciting passion either way, but fans of the band's early work could do a lot worse than to tune in for songs as appealingly brisk and bright as the Matthew Sweet-esque "Near You." Trafficking exclusively in warm, timeless, pleasant power-pop, Howdy! represents the musical embodiment of its agreeable title. Teenage Fanclub has been half of some odd collaborations in the past, once recording with De La Soul on the Judgment Night soundtrack, but it's never stretched them to album length until Songs Of Wisdom And Hope, a disc recorded with iconic rock savant Jad Fair. The result produces some sweet moments—on the inexplicably seven-minutes-long "Crush On You," Fair sings, "I'm not usually one to boast / but I think you're the most / Santa Claus on wheat toast"—but the pairing doesn't serve either side particularly well. The band is reduced to an interchangeable collection of session men, and its smooth, competent playing mutes the gee-whiz guilelessness of Fair's vocals. With Teenage Fanclub relegated to the background at every turn, Wisdom And Hope marks the logical culmination of the group's slow, steady, decade-long descent into anonymity. At its best, Howdy! serves as a reminder that it still deserves better.