Here’s Teenage Fanclub’s formula: Three Scots write their own songs, bring them to the group, and weave them together into a winsome whole. Since 1997, they’ve followed a particularly egalitarian model, splitting up writing duties equally on five consecutive albums—12 tracks per album, four each for band founders Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley, and Gerard Love.
It’s hard to say which is more impressive, that three songwriters have coexisted seemingly peacefully for so long, or that Blake, McGinley, and Love have maintained such a high level of quality over the years.
2016’s Here is just the latest addition to one of the finest musical catalogs ever assembled. It’s achingly beautiful, packed with acoustic jangle, enlightened tales of life and love, and memorable melodies that echo the influence of classic bands like the Byrds, the Beatles, and Big Star. It’s also incredibly cohesive, considering the group’s shared leadership. In an interview, though, McGinley is quick to point out the flecks of individuality in Teenage Fanclub’s songs.
“The process of songwriting is reflective, at least it is for us anyway,” he says of their lyrics. “I don’t think we have any collective message, and we never discuss with each other the content of songs or what the words are about or anything like that.
“We work together well, but to us I’m not sure it is seamless,” McGinley continues. “To me, I see any of our albums as having really different kinds of stuff on it. We just work on the [songs] and accept whatever each of us has chosen to contribute.”
Close listens to Here highlight each of the three songwriters’ tendencies, established over many years. Blake remains master of the mid-tempo earworm, capable of inserting a catchy chorus and sound wisdom into any song. Love produced the most obvious single on the album—the relatively rockin’ “Thin Air”—but elsewhere, his easygoing tunes float along on sparkling guitar lines and synth sighs. McGinley is responsible for two of Here’s most striking moments: The slow-burning ballad “Steady State” and “I Was Beautiful When I Was Alive,” which blossoms into a gentle krautrock jam in its final two minutes.
As always, the common thread that runs through Here is Teenage Fanclub’s hyper-focus on the pursuit of the perfect melody, and their ability to swaddle that melody in the seasoned vibe of a band with twentysomething years of experience writing Earth’s best pop songs.
“I hope we write songs that represent who we are, the age that we are, that say something about the reality of our own lives now,” McGinley says. “Whether or not they are great pop songs is down to others to decide. We just do what we do, and we’re actually quite intense when we’re working to get things just the way we want them to be.”
Quiet, intense—there’s a dichotomy there that might explain the longstanding chemistry between Blake, Love, and McGinley. If only it were that complicated.
“[Our] longevity,” McGinley says, “is just down to never having made the decision to stop and do something else!”