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20 Jazz-Funk Greats?
on 19 August 2012
Since 1989 the cheerily named Teenage Fanclub have been producing agreeable indie rock, that is deeply indebted to a number of 'worthy' rock icons of the 1960s and 1970s, like Neil Young. With this 13 song collection, did they decide they would change that steady, tried-tested-and-trusted formula and create a record of 20 Jazz-Funk greats? No, they definitely did not. Instead, they stuck rigidly to their methods - you can see that in their decision to pay tribute to a member of the 1960s rock group The Byrds in song ('Gene Clark'), and to give the album the same title as a song by the cult 1970s American rock group Big Star (with whom they are frequently compared). The results of the continuation of that approach - as critics and fans have both suggested - are decidedly mixed.
Undoubtedly, the high point of this their 4th studio album is the single 'Radio', this exuberant guitar-driven jangle wouldn't have sounded out of place on the band's best LP, Bandwagonesque. The opener - the ballad 'Hang On'- isn't bad either. And the brief 'Ret Liv Dead' effectively manages to mesh anguish, feedback and strings in a 129 second burst.
But too often forgettable slow- and mid-paced melodies are buried deep beneath waves of angry, sludgy, distorted guitar on the self-produced Thirteen; a song such as the limpid 'Fear of Flying' seems to me to be pretty much indistinguishable from the dismally-titled 'Norman 3' . And that underwhelming impression isn't eased by the bitter and disillusioned tone of the lyrics to the likes of '120 Mins' and 'Song To The Cynic' (which seem quite close to the feelings about fame and self-loathing expressed by Nirvana on In Utero). I think that some of the words to the aforementioned 'Fear of Flying' seem apposite whenever I listen to Thirteen: "I've never looked for answers in a song/Ain't got no good ideas, I'm staring at the sun/Don't always look for comfort in a song". It is perhaps little wonder that upon its release, on Creation Records in 1993, it sold "like iced lollies on a cold day", as music journalist Andrew Mueller has put it.