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Album Review

Once hailed as the second coming of Big Star, the trio of singer/songwriters who make up Teenage Fanclub — Norman Blake, Gerard Love, and Raymond McGinley — have attained the status of something more along the lines of a Scottish Crosby, Stills & Nash. Which is to say they are a band of equals with all three members consistently cranking out song after song of well-written melodic rock that references such icons of the genre as the Byrds, the Beach Boys, Badfinger, and yes Big Star. With 2005's Man-Made can Tortoise be added to that list? Well, sort of. Recorded at Tortoise frontman John McEntire's Soma studio in Chicago with McEntire at the controls and sometimes the keys, Man-Made is both all that one might hope a paring of classicist power pop and avant-garde post-rock could be, and then, depending on which end of the indie rock spectrum you're coming from, perhaps slightly less. Upon hearing that the notoriously homebound boys from Glasgow were going to board a plane to the States, and enter the mad science lab of the man known for odd time signatures and archaic keyboards it raised expectations — perhaps unfairly — that the resulting album would be something unexpected and maybe even revolutionary. However, as is the tradition with most power pop craftsmen, the general approach is to aim for the perfect pop song each time out, resulting in albums that are rarely disappointing for fans, but which can rarely claim innovation or edginess. Happily, Man-Made lives up to this tradition and is as good an album as any Teenage Fanclub has made since Grand Prix. That said, given the high expectations of working with a maverick iconoclast like McEntire, even a longtime fan might be somewhat disappointed that the album isn't more than yet another solid Fanclub release. Though McEntire's production is subtle, his unique aesthetics are definitely apparent on Man-Made as odd keyboards and sundry other inevitably electronic apparatuses bubble and bleep just below the surface of fuzzed-out guitars, chugging basslines, and layered vocals. Primarily, the album takes off where the new tracks recorded for the band's stellar 2003 retrospective, Four Thousand Seven Hundred and Sixty-Six Seconds: A Short Cut to Teenage Fanclub, left off. To these ends, Love's "Time Stops" and "Fallen Leaves" once again find the sweet-voiced bassist delving into sun-soaked Left Banke meets Moody Blues territory. Similarly, McGinley's "Feel" evinces a hang-loose '70s West Coast vibe that sounds something like Roger McGuinn fronting Hotel California-era Eagles, and if Teenage Fanclub ever had any shoegaze tendencies Blake reveals all with the blissful and Hammond-happy "Slow Fade." While nobody could accuse Teenage Fanclub of taking huge creative risks, more often than not the tracks on Man-Made do resemble something along the lines of '70s soft rock group America backed by Stereolab — which is a very cool thing.


Formed: 1989 in Glasgow, Scotland

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

After first gaining acclaim for a dense, melodic sound that anticipated the coming emergence of grunge, Scotland's Teenage Fanclub spent the remainder of their career as torch-bearers for the power pop revival, unparalleled among their generation for both their unwavering adherence to and brilliant reinvention of the classic guitar pop of vintage acts like Big Star and Badfinger. Blessed with the talents of three formidable singers and songwriters (Norman Blake, Gerard Love, and Raymond McGinley,...
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