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Teenage Fanclub: Man-Made


Teenage Fanclub

Album: Man-Made
Label: Merge

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Fresh from the career-defining anthology Four Thousand Seven Hundred And Sixty-Six Seconds, Scottish power-pop act Teenage Fanclub has partnered with Chicago post-rock producer John McEntire for Man-Made, which sounds markedly different from the band's usual thick-hooked love anthems. The Teenage Fanclub of Man-Made resembles the moodier, more fractured side of Byrds/Big Star jangleâ€"like The Notorious Byrd Brothers or Big Star's Third, only smoother and livelier. But the record's apparent quietude is deceptive. Man-Made has just as many buzzy electric guitars and bashing drums as other Teenage Fanclub records, but they're mixed into something softer and more pillowy. The band's three singer-songwriters match the tone, vocalizing in a low hum that sounds like fluorescent lights clicking on.

Each takes a turn on Man-Made's first three songs: Norman Blake on the typically sparkly "It's All In My Mind," Gerard Love on the blue-shaded "Time Stops," and Raymond McGinley on the airy, ambiguous "Nowhere," which has him singing "I'm alive and I'm alone" with a mixture of pride and sorrow. By and large, lyrics aren't the primary emphasis of a Teenage Fanclub song. All the band's writers can turn a phrase, but the words are mostly a pastiche of stoner slang, trippy imagery, and lovesick pleas, kept as simple and indelible as possibleâ€"as on Blake's "Slow Fade," a snappy rocker which turns on the line "the colors seep away and the lines disappear / slow-fading pictures in my mind." It's a vivid image and a tidy summation of love lost, echoed later in Blake's "Cells," which is also about natural decay.

McEntire doesn't impose much of his avant-garde studio wizardry. Man-Made sports a light drape of strings here and there, and some occasional rhythmic piano or organ, but nothing Teenage Fanclub wouldn't have ordered up itself. Mainly, McEntire seems to have kept the band from indulging its penchant for sloppiness. The playing is kept tight to fit the murmuring mood, and explosive guitar solos like the one on Love's gorgeous "Fallen Leaves" sound all the more cathartic for their scarcity. Given the album's general emphasis on romances in disrepair, the "Fallen Leaves" chorusâ€""And it feels so now / Everything's so near / Come on over / The future's here"â€"comes out painfully hopeful, a bright jewel among the ruins.