After five albums of Scottish power pop, Teenage Fanclub have switched gears and recorded a country-rock flavored album, Songs From North Britain (set for U.S. release July 29), that sounds like their best yet.
The most obvious influence on the new album would seem to be the Byrds' late '60s country period, but Teenage Fanclub leader Norman Blake has other ideas. "I guess we're influenced by lots of different things," mused Blake, 32, during a recent interview. "But I don't think we ever approach it like that -- like 'lets make this one sound like the Byrds and this one like the Beatles.' We use a lot of harmonies and very often people automatically say the Byrds or the Beatles and we're definitely influenced by them, but we listen to lots of modern things as well.
"I like the Folk Implosion LP a lot," added Blake, who sings, plays guitar and writes some of the songs. "I think Lou Barlow is brilliant, y'know, he's a great songwriter -- people like him influence me and just like all sorts of things, modern and ancient, if people consider the Beatles ancient now..."
While the group (which also includes bassist/vocalist/songwriter Gerald Love, guitarist/vocalist/songwriter Raymond McGinley and drummer Paul Quinn) has yet to break big in America, they've had ups and downs in the UK. Blake said he didn't understand the career highs and never really get the lows either, though he's ridden this musical roller coaster the whole way. In fact, the success of their third album, 1991's Bandwagonesque, which earned Teenage Fanclub Spin magazine's prestigious "Album of the Year" award, caught them off guard.
"Bandwagonesque had been like super hyped, and they coined that thing, [calling it] album of the year," said Blake. "You know, sometimes I think there's a certain amount of received wisdom in the music business and the received wisdom that year was that our album was brilliant. We thought that was ridiculous, you know, we couldn't relate to that at all, it was totally over the top."
While 1993's Thirteen was something of a disappointment, the group regained their footing with the release of Grand Prix in 1995. And then there's the new album, which contains 12 strong tracks which mix classic '60s folk-psychedelic rockers with country-rock, while mixing in the electronic keyboard sounds and lo-fi distortion pedals of the '90s power pop bands.
The cover art for the new album features various shots of the English countryside, and the first two videos for the U.K. singles, "Ain't That Enough" (which charted at #17 in Britain, the highest the band have ever gotten, according to Blake) and "I Don't Want Control Of You" were shot by Scottish fashion photographer and friend of the band, Donald Milne.
Unfortunately for U.S. fans, the videos, which Blake said have a home-movie feel, and singles are only being released in the U.K. where the album is coming out July 21.
In the U.S. the first scheduled single is the seventh track on the album "Take the Long Way Round." The song features the acoustic/electric guitar layering that is signature Teenage Fanclub mixed in with a liberal amount of vocal harmonies. A rhythmic synth-twiddle accents the song and an "Ah-ah-ah" vocal bridge completes the picture.
And like most of the songs on the album, "Take The Long Way Round" is a love song of sorts. "People think that its kind of unfashionable to write a love song, y'know, and I think that's quite sad in some ways," said Blake. "People have been being really vague or obtuse or whatever in their lyrics or else, you know, they have very angsty lyrics. So it's like people tend to think that it's kind of unfashionable to write a frank love song but I guess we like the idea of not being fashionable."
Blake laughed. "We like to write songs about how we feel, and that's what we've tried to do on this album."