966 - Teenage Fanclub 'Songs From Northern Britain' (1997)

My Rating: 2.75 out of 5
1001 Albums You Must Hear Before You Die: X
Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums: X
The Mojo Collection: X

Chart Peak (UK/US): 3/--

Favourite Tracks: Can't Feel My Soul, I Don't Want Control Of You, Your Love Is The
Place Where I Come From
Least-Favourite Track: Mount Everest, Take The Long Way Around

Call me a fuddy-duddy old traditionalist but I was under the impression that the best time for painting the outside of your house is the summer. A balmy, sweaty month like August you would think? Wrong. Here in Britain it has been raining throughout August. And raining. Oh, and today it's raining again. And in my haste to pack away all my brushes, paints & ladders, I somehow failed to notice the mammoth slimy dog turd on my front path, so now I've got sh*t-stinking footprints splodged all over my carpet too. And it's still bloody raining. So I wasn't exactly enthusiastic to find that the next album in the Top 1000 is called Songs From Northern Britain. The title immediately conjured up stereotypical images of grim, grey industrial towns - with lots of songs about rain - which is just about the last thing I want to hear right now.

Happily, Songs From Northern Britain turns out to be a bit of a misnomer because this is a warm & tuneful album that sounds more like it should be called 'Songs From Southern California'. Admittedly only a pompous London ponce like me would automatically equate the words 'Northern Britain' with a certain damp dreariness, but such narrow-mindedness just made the shimmering jangly guitars & uplifting vocal harmonies all the more enjoyable.

OK, so we know it confounded my expectations, but how good an album is it? Well, if most US music critics are to be believed, this record stinks worse than my carpet (I have GOT to go & clean that up soon). Rolling Stone dismisses this album as nothing more than a rather dull imitation of The Byrds, which makes me wonder whether they listened past the first two tracks. Yes the album kicks off with a distinctly retro-60's-feel, but it's hardly the carbon-copy of The Byrds that some reviewers suggest. (And how come it's OK for artists like Tom Petty to have a Byrds-influence going on?) Anyway, by the time we get to the third track Can't Feel My Soul, that's all been supplanted by a much more contemporary rock sound with crashing guitar riffs & driving drums.

Although the record starts strongly it doesn't maintain that songwriting standard & we hit the dreaded mid-album slump. Actually it's more of a lull than a slump as even the worst songs aren't terrible - they're just a bit predictable, with open 'cowboy' chords & rather uninspired guitar solos that do little more than repeat the vocal melody. Worst offender is Mount Everest which limps along behind the rest of the album like some mangy stray dog (like the one that crapped on my path - I'm not letting this go am I?) Anyway I reckon that climbing the real Mount Everest would require less strength & endurance than listening to that track.

Another minor gripe would be the lyrics - they're nothing special & pretty much all the songs are of the love-affirming kind with choruses like 'I can't feel my soul/Without you' (Can't Feel My Soul), 'I don't care about where I'm going/Because I'll be there and so will you' (I Don't Care), 'Only you & me add up' (Speed Of Light), 'When I'm on my own I'm lost in space/My freedom's a delusion/Your love is the place where I come from' (Your Love Is The...) etc, etc. It's not that I'm against positivity but a whole album of that feels a bit like when your flatmate has his girlfriend over for the weekend. When I think about it perhaps it IS just me being a miserable sod but I do maintain that sad songs have more emotive power than happy ones.

See, now all my negativity is making this sound like a bad album - which it's not. There's a clutch of catchy, feelgood songs here & I found myself humming them after only a couple of listens. It might not change your life, but it's the perfect soundtrack for one of those long, rainy days. Like today.


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