Monday, April 06, 2009

Random Journey: The Raspberries, Big Star & Teenage Fanclub's "Thirteen"

I've been meaning to do this for quite a long time: A few years ago I started a series of blog posts about bands and records, one leading to another, by association, seeing to where it would lead me. Last you heard from me on this journey I was with the Pooh Sticks which lead me to the Raspberries and their Greatest (hits). I've had this record for a couple of years now, and on the whole I really like it, I've played it quite a lot, it's been a bit of a (minor) favourite actually. I'm not sure what the Pooh Sticks saw in them, the overblown, almost baroque stompers (in a maybe ironic way?) or the fine, lovelorn ballads. Anyway, several things: As far as I know this stuff was already retro when it came out, but it's so old now it sounds doubly retro, 60s pastiche sounds different now. When it's good it's lush, breezy, confident, anthemic power pop with quite complex songs that stick in your head after while. While lyrically often riding out some cliched love stories, the music is definitely not too formulaic. Eric Carmen's voice has a beautiful, slightly camp, often wistful and, yes, fruity quality, though some of the stuff goes a little too far into cheese territory for me, the fruitiness becomes over-ripe and slightly rotten so to speak. Some of the songs are real classics in my book though. I'm so glad I bought this record!

I think the next step was via an amazon recommendation and it's not too far a step to Big Stars first two albums collected on this dics . There are definitely some parallels here, Big Star can do lush and grand power pop too, but there is more melancholia and a slightly grittier feel underlying a lot of this material. It bites a bit deeper, it's got a different kind of staying power that anchors it, it inhabits a moodier, more doubtful place, and it's this quality that maybe makes them more relevant today. Again, some absolutely great stuff here and probably high time I checked them out. Saw them in London last year in top form!

So now it goes back to Scotland and the 90s, the link this time happened as follows...: Shortly after seeing Big Star play in London, they did a beautiful version of their fine sad ballad "Thirteen", I was in Glasgow's Avalanche Records en route to the Hebrides and saw Teenage Fanclub's album "Thirteen" there at quite a reasonable prize. Now I knew that they were indebted to Big Star's sound (just like a lot of other indie bands), but up til then I didn't realize that the title of the album was probably a Big Star reference in one way or another (I think there's thirteen tracks on there too), so the link for the "random journey" suggested itself. What sounds maybe a little bit dull and monochromatic on first impression revealed itself as quite accomplished, very understated indie rock with all sorts of subtle nods to the past but still occupying some time and place of it's own. The Big Star template is definitely in there, no doubt, but they manage to blend in all sorts of other elements, and the songwriting is very impressive, once you give the songs some room to breathe. I think they had some sort of problem with this record, it came out after their breakthrough "Bandwagonesque" album, and they weren't so happy with it, but to me it was this record that made me a fan. I've got most of their albums now. It was sitting on the porch in Colonsay playing it on this crappy stereo, over and over, while looking at the craggy hills and the sheep wandering about. There's a song, "The Cabbage", that sounds eerily like an early 90s Weezer outtake, the same bass staccato lines, and even the yearning vocals sound similar. "Escher" is my favourite though, I think, and the opener, "Hang On", is grand too, gets me every time. Though I'm sure I haven't got as deep into this band as you can go. But I'm glad I'm on the way now, again, probably much too late, but sometimes certain bands reach you at a later stage. So where next on this journey? At least I've finally got around to updating here again. Hopefully it won't be two years before the next instalment. It's been really good and educational so far, I have to say!


Gavin said...

This album gets a raw deal (especially from the band). "The Cabbage" is possibly my favourite TFC song

thomas said...

Yeah, The Cabbage is a lovely tune, and I'm not sure how superficial the Weezer comparison is tbh, it was Simon who pointed it out to me, he actually thought it was the =w= and I thought it was quite striking how similar it sounded, but the similarities end somewhere I'm sure. I don't think Teenage Fanclub do this raw, confessional stuff like Rivers, it's way more understated...