I'm going to show my age here, but does anybody out there remember MTV's 120 Minutes
? The host of the show was an obnoxious foppish English twit whose accent made certain things he said unconsciously hilarious. It is this last aspect of the show that is the only reason I remembered Teenage Fanclub at all when this album arrived at my door; the host's intonation of their early-90s effort -- "Baaaand....wagonesque
!!!!" -- remains a comedic touchstone amongst my inexorably aging social set.
Given their less-than-auspicious place in my memory, then, it was a great surprise to me how much I liked this album. Now reduced to three members, Teenage Fanclub has absorbed the Britpop successes and failures of the past decade and made an album that celebrates everything that can go right when musicians listen to far too many Beatles records.
The first thing that will strike you upon listening to Howdy is how consummately professional these guys are. This band has been through the wringer, seen the rise and fall of their "it"-ness, and decided that making music is still worth the heartache. The album oozes taste, and while it doesn't do anything spectacularly new, the overall quality of these tracks means that the lack of novelty is more than made up for by the instant, comfortable familiarity of the band's sound.
On occasions, the comfort level extends to somnolent proportions; especially in the later tracks, the band's "every melodic British rock band you've listened to for the past decade" act wears thin, and they start to sound like a Toad The Wet Sprocket cover band -- not a pretty sight. More often than not, though, they write soaring, harmonic choruses that stick to you like kleenex on a shaving cut (the old metaphor machine is grinding gears). "Dumb Dumb Dumb" alone is worth the price of admission -- a song that if it suddenly came on the radio (and you didn't know it was by the oft-maligned Teenage Fanclub) would make you absolutely positive that music was made richer by its existence. And the next song, "The Town and The City", is even better.
Swallow your hip indie rock pride and join the club...the Fanclub. (May my editor have mercy on my soul.)