I first became aware of Teenage Fanclub around ’91 or ’92, just as they put out their seminal album, Bandwagonesque. MTV’s 120 Minutes did a feature on the band, and I still hear the name of the album said in show host David Kendall’s British accent.
If you were a high school student, watching 120 Minutes when it actually came on was almost out of the question, since the show aired at the less-than-accessible 12am time slot on Sunday nights. I watched this particular episode on a sketchy VHS copy a few days later while in the sitting room section of my parent’s too-spacious bedroom. I adjusted the tiny tracking knob on the VCR that was hidden behind a thin black plastic panel to make the fuzzy white lines in the screen (mostly) go away.
The feature on the band was good but ended up leaving me with a bit of a bad taste in my mouth. As a part of the story, MTV conducted these sort of man-on-the-street interviews with the attendees of a festival in which Teenage Fanclub was playing. During the interviews, a kid jumped in front of the camera and yelled, “Teenage Fanclub! They’re better than Sonic Youth! They’re better than Dinosaur Jr.!”
I was outraged.
This kid has either taken the purple acid, lost his ever-loving mind, or both. There is no band better than Dinosaur Jr. and Sonic Youth is a pretty hard act to follow.
It struck me, at the time, as near blasphemy. After getting over my initial fury, I came to enjoy Bandwagonesque. The “Star Sign” single won me over with its meandering, Sonic Youth tk jam opener that gives way to a propulsive, forceful, dream pop repudiation of astrology. I remember both my girlfriend and I listening to her Bandwagonesque CD quite a bit, in college a few years later. “December” made it onto one of those mixtapes girls make their college boyfriend.
Fast forward over two decades and the album, which is seen as a bona-fide alternative classic, is ripe for some recognition. As far as I know, there’s no deluxe vinyl reissue planned, but we do have Ben Gibbard’s from Death Cab for Cutie’s track-for-track cover of the album, brought to us by the fine folks at Turntable Kitchen. Turntable Kitchen is releasing monthly installments in a series of cover LP’s, where an entire album is covered by an artist, each month and delivering them straight to your doorstep as part of their new Sounds Delicious series. Honestly, when I read about Sounds Delicious, they had me at “cover albums on colored vinyl.”
Gibbard’s faithful reproduction of Bandwagonesque reflects a sense of reverence for the source material. From the dazed and confused stoner jam that is the second half of “The Concept” into the driving 100 mph slightly over the center line Sonic Youth (there’s that reference again) tribute that is “Satan,” the album lands right away as a pretty straight homage to the greatness of the original. “Metal Baby,” a song about a metal-loving girlfriend who’s embarrassed to be seen with her non-metal boyfriend, sounds almost exactly like the original Teenage Fanclub recording, right down to the vocals. Particularly suited to the open-eyed wistfulness of Gibbard’s style of singing is one of the album’s closers, “Guiding Star,” which ends with a meditation on Jesus wondering, “could His golden halo be the sun we all know?”
One thing that is improved over the original album is the production quality. I’m not sure to what I can attribute it, but the original recording had an unintentionally muted quality to it. Maybe it was the early 90’s production techniques. Even during the most dynamic of moments on the original, there’s a flatness to the sound that detracts from the songs themselves. Gibbard’s recording rectifies that, sound like an album with all of the benefits of modern music production.
You may not be a huge Death Cab For Cutie fan and the Postal Service may be too precious for your tastes. Even if you think Teenage Fanclub has been overrated these many years, this album is worth checking out. Unlike it’s predecessors in the Sounds Delicious series, this one is available on streaming services, making the barrier to entry inexcusably low. Recommended if you like rock music.