25 Years Ago: Teenage Fanclub Channel Big Star on ‘Bandwagonesque’
Looking back on the momentous year 1991 was for music, the focus for most people usually falls on the arrival of grunge, specifically Nirvana’s Nevermind. But there was so much music of all different genres that had a major impact, with one of them coming from Teenage Fanclub and their third LP, Bandwagonesque, released Nov. 19, 1991.
The Scottish outfit had provided only a hint of what they were capable of melodically on their 1990 debut, A Catholic Education, on the song “Everything Flows.” A year and a half later though, the group revealed 11 songs and two instrumentals full of jangly guitars and earnest vocals that resulted in flattering comparisons to Big Star, the early '70s band who left an indelible and influential mark on power pop.
“We got on really well with [late Big Star frontman] Alex [Chilton],” Teenage Fanclub singer/guitarist Norman Blake told PopMatters in 2010. “I think Alex saw something of himself in us, in our attitude and approach to making music. I think he passed it on to us and we’ve passed it on to another group of musicians. Alex was definitely a kindred spirit of ours. I don’t know, something just clicked with us.”
It’s easy to find echoes of Chilton throughout Bandwagonesque, especially on tracks like “December” and “What You Do to Me,” the latter sounding like a distant sequel to Big Star’s “September Gurls.” The album has its own identity too, mixing elements of alternative rock with clever lyrics like, “Still she won't be forced against her will / Says she don't do drugs but she does the pill” from “The Concept."
Bandwagonesque resonated with many at the time of its release, earning a prestigious Album of the Year nod from Spin, and getting pegged as musical guests on Saturday Night Live the following February where they managed to play four songs, including pairing “The Concept” with the hard rock jam from the feedback drenched “Satan.”
Grunge had captured the souls of the American youth though, and no matter how good Teenage Fanclub’s music was – and Bandwagonesque is as close to perfect as it gets – they were bound to be overlooked in the States. Europe was a different story altogether, where the group had signed to the hippest label in Britain, Creation Records, and was at home alongside kindred musical spirits like Ride, Slowdive and Primal Scream.
The Top 100 Albums of the '90s