No band truly enjoys universal goodwill, but Teenage Fanclub come close. The announcement that a new Fannies record was on the way in 2020 was celebrated like a significant David Marshall penalty save. When the release of Endless Arcade was put back to March and then April 2021, it was treated like a David Marshall butter-wristed effort at a thirty-yarder in Tel Aviv.
Other than the occupants of the drummer’s stool, the band had managed to maintain the same line-up since 1989. The trio of Blake, McGinley and Love remained a reassuring, ever-present unit as the world changed around those of us who listened to A Catholic Education and Bandwagonesque devotedly in our school days. So in 2018, the news that Gerry Love was to leave bass and vocal duties cast massive doubt on whether the Bellshill veterans could continue to produce the same naturally harmonic pop magic they’d been riffing out for 30 years.
For those of us who matured along with the band, Love’s departure was a figurative size 11 in the squidgy bits that nobody needed. Whether the Fannies could continue in their well-furrowed lane without diminishing into irrelevant dad rock wasn’t really a concern as, with the benefit of hindsight, the long-maturing arc of their output has been as natural as the maturing arc of an ageing spine/hairline/dress size/erection.
The band’s lineup now includes Dave McGowan on bass rather than his previous keyboard and guitar duties and Euros Childs, formerly of Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, on keyboards. As with previous record Here, the recording was done in Hamburg. And whether by design or serendipity, the writing credits are split right down the middle, with six tracks written by Blake and six by McGinley.
Opening track ‘Home’ might almost pass you by on first listen, despite being the longest song on the album. After repeated plays when it was a single, it has only grown in my estimation. As an opener, it sets out the record’s stall pretty effectively with the warm vintage amp rhythm guitar tones, a tempo best described as funky pedestrian, and the subtle chord movement in the chorus which balances a sweet optimism with suitably adult sadness.
There’s a lengthy solo section and outro reminiscent of classic nineties TFC song, ‘Gene Clark’. This seems particularly appropriate as the long-term influences on the band’s sound have arguably never been more front and centre, so you’ll need to excuse the forthcoming lists of artists used as unimaginative synonyms for adverbs. ‘Home’ absolutely radiates The Byrds, The Band, Neil Young, and images of well-curated record collections.
Title track ‘Endless Arcade’ is what happens if there’s a genetic splicing incident involving The Pastels and Stereolab. Euros Childs’ solo steals the show. If there’s a keyboard solo sweet spot somewhere between freakout and total restraint, it has just had its dictionary entry updated.
‘Warm Embrace’ is a charming, jangly chunk of Sixties-ness not entirely of different parentage to ‘Little Miss Strange’, the Noel Redding song on Jimi Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland. It was the first track anyone heard from this album, and there has been a trifling global problem in between, but ‘Everything is Falling Apart’ is still as class as when you heard it in 2019.
‘The Sun Won’t Shine on Me’ is a clever clash of elements that somehow works. For the first two minutes it’s an almost hymnal vocal harmony, singing rather self-depreciating sentiments in a waltz-time. The last minute is the same, but the stomp boxes are on. It feels like it shouldn’t work but the melody has the sort of rolling codas that lend to being sung whilst walking in diagonal vectors between the pub and home.
‘Come With Me’ has pleasing Delgados-like verses with a hint of Beach Boys in the chorus. The ever-changing second chorus line includes ‘together we’ll hide from reality, ‘together we’ll fly across the open sea’, ‘together we’ll slide into symmetry’ and ‘together we’ll ride to infinity’, all of which should be quite banal, but I find them quite romantic. Except the Buzz Lightyear one, which is just weird. The guitar tones that form the bedrock of ‘In Our Dreams’ are a thing of beauty – moving from slightly overdriven to clear, ringing chimes oozing chorus and reverb.
Released as a single in January, ‘I’m More Inclined’ is a touching love song with a Motown drumbeat in the chorus and deceptively clever lyrics, playing off religious imagery with the human concepts of love and longing.
The consistent and fairly minimalist production leaves the songwriting completely exposed. For the most part, this plays into Blake and McGinley’s craftsman-like hands, but ‘The Future’ and ‘Living With You’ are both fairly unremarkable except for the particularly aquatic solo on the latter. Final track ‘Silent Song’ is a cinematic way to close any album. A headphones-on-ceiling-starer full of Syd Barrett-ish observations over a lazy tempo.
Whatever my expectations were, Endless Arcade exceeded them. Should you worry about the ‘dad rock’ label? Absolutely not. Just as every nominative genre covers a qualitative spectrum ranging from bin juice to stardust, so does every dad and so does every rock, I’m sure.