We all know the narrative – a once bigger band from the 90s, dragging themselves and their heavy egos around the circuit one more time in pursuit of next term’s school fees. Padded from critical opinion by massed crowds of middle aged people, high on nostalgia and 30 year old pop hits. There is little, at first glance, to suggest that Teenage Fanclub bring anything new to this hallowed equation, with nobody having talked about the band since 1991.
And yet. The band, to their credit, have never stopped producing – they haven’t gone on hiatus or broken up in their entire 28 year history – and they’re clearly proud of everything they’ve produced in that period, with the vast majority of the songs of the set coming from the last 6 years. That makes them different from their peers, who tend to wheel out the hits like a glorified Jukebox musical cast.
Unfortunately, tonight it turns out that that might be for the better. The Teenage Fanclub’s former power pop writing selves, using nothing more than simple chord sequences and naivety to crunch out Beach Boys/Grunge hybrids, are gone. Replacing them in the studio is a poor imitation of better C86-esque bands, just another jangle band using jangle to hide a real lack of content.
Sometimes, there’s the slightest hint of a bite into a relaxed, texture ridden atmosphere which every jangle anthem ever written aspires to. But right away it’s snatched back, with a clanging chord change or wretchedly safe chorus, and we’re left with the wreckage for another two and a half or so minutes. That’s not to say that there weren’t high points – ‘The Concept’, ‘I Don’t Want Control Of You, Star Sign’ and a few more are songs which you’d have to be doing really badly to do badly with – but the fabric of the night was “sorry”.
There seems to be a collective eye roll whenever a band gets back together to play the hits and duly does so – people hate to think that something they love might have money at its core – and yet there’s nothing really wrong with it. The people who experience those shows are, in fact, entertained. The ideological battleground of art as a commodity is irrelevant. It’s a gig. What is, I now realise, is plodding through 20 odd average songs in the hope of feeling relevant.