Teenage Fanclub have always existed on the periphery--sensitive loners with Big Star dreams who, along with the Velvet Crush and Matthew Sweet, nearly made it to the tops of pop when the grunge movement was merely stubble. Then Weezer burst the bubblegum in 1994 with more irony than empathy. The Class of '91, at least as represented by Audioslave and the Foo Fighters, has mellowed into MOR, but Teenage Fanclub's new Man-Made shows an undiminished commitment to classic pop hallmarks: a jangling guitar slightly corrupted by dense fuzz, a rhythm section that doesn't interfere, and love-me-do lyricism.
Maybe love me too much. Principal songwriters Norman Blake, Raymond McGinley, and Gerard Love are so blinded by love's blinkers, it's hard to see past the flash bulbs. "Feel" is the most gaga of the bunch, with lyrics like "Life without you is so cold/And moving round you makes me hot."
The sound of loneliness is just as comforting, with admissions like "I'm alive but I'm alone," the mantralike refrain of "Nowhere." Though it seeks solace in a seamless harmony, the song still adores from a pained distance. "Save" features the moping verse "Always on the outside/Hoping for some inside/Stuck between the lines/Things don't change," a summary statement from a band untainted by time or trend. More postcard scribbling finds its way into "Only with You": "There's so much that I wanna do/But only with you," and "You were on my mind/While living without you." But without a hand to hold, their guitars, ultimately, will dance them to the end of love.
Man-Made is a bit like that first glimpse into love, and "Time Stops" preserves infatuation in amber. But the album is sometimes so fawning that it's flimsy. After repeated listens, each as pleasant as the last, there's no exultation. Romanticism is as timeless as a three-part harmony, but even perfection has an expiration date. One can only heap so much praise on someone before shaking them down for flaws, and likewise, the air can get a little chilly perched on a pedestal.
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