About two hours ago, I queued up four or so albums at once on my computer's mp3 player program. I was planning to do some reading for a few hours, and I didn't want the music to stop anytime soon. At the end of the list, I tacked on something called "Four Thousand Seven Hundred And Sixty-Six Seconds: A Shortcut To Teenage Fanclub". This is the kind of record that would be considered a greatest-hits collection for a lot of other bands. But the sad fact is that, at least here in America, Teenage Fanclub can't be said to have had any real hits. Here in America, the most accurate term for this 21 track single-disc compilation is "career retrospective."
I've been into Teenage Fanclub since early in my high school career. Sixteen years ago, to be exact. They had already released one album by then, 1989's "A Catholic Education", but it had a low profile--it was on Matador back when Matador was really an indie label--and therefore I hadn't heard or even heard about it. But one of my best friends had, and so he knew to pick up their second album and major-label debut, "Bandwagonesque", when it came out in 1991.
That's how I heard Teenage Fanclub for the first time. The friend in question and I exchanged Christmas gifts that year, the sort of gifts that teenage boys who haven't yet entered the work force give each other--mix tapes. He gave me two, one of which was actually a mix tape, and the other of which featured "Bandwagonesque" taking up the entirety of side one. I got the tape from him on the final day before the Christmas holiday began, and I heard it for the first time that night, sitting in darkness in the back of my parents' car. We were on our way to my grandparents' house for a holiday visit, and I had my Walkman on as a way to kill the boredom the two-hour drive would induce in me. When I heard track three, "December", with its chorus of "she don't even care, but I would die for her," it was all over for me. I fell in love with Teenage Fanclub, and with power pop in general. Every album made by white boys with distorted guitars, harmonized vocals, and mournful lyrics about unrequited love that I eagerly consumed over the next few years came onto my radar thanks to that initial experience with Teenage Fanclub. Matthew Sweet, The Posies, Big Star, Velvet Crush, Cheap Trick... I heard it all because I heard Teenage Fanclub through headphones, that night in the backseat of my parents' car.
"December" isn't on "Four Thousand Seven Hundred And Sixty-Six Seconds", but it begins with the same song that "Bandwagonesque" begins with: "The Concept", a six minute pop tune that starts off catchy and midtempo before downshifting halfway through into a long coda, complete with violins and wordless oohing and aahing vocals. Just hearing that song takes me back to 1991, when I first learned the awesome power generated by combining two of my bigtime musical loves--melodic love songs, and big distorted guitars. "Bandwagonesque" was actually named the best album of 1991 by Spin magazine, in a decision that's widely derided today, even by the magazine itself, as a huge "what-were-we-thinking" fuckup. Nirvana's "Nevermind", which came in at number two, is seen in retrospect as the blatantly obvious choice. But what's lost in this discussion is the fact that "Bandwagonesque" is honestly a better album. Only slightly--"Nevermind" is outstanding, there's no doubt about that. But when the two albums are set alongside each other, the brilliance of "Bandwagonesque" shines through. At least, if you ask me. To this day, given the choice, I'll reach for it first every time. Granted, "Nevermind" was far more important to musical development. Hell, it changed everything. It's one of the most important albums in the history of rock music. There's no arguing that. But how is anyone supposed to know that within six months of an album's release? That kind of thing is pretty much impossible to predict. All Spin's staff had as a basis for comparison at the time was how much they liked each album. They liked "Bandwagonesque" slightly better, and to this day I think they were right.
Sorry, just felt the need to clear the air on that particular subject. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have some more reading to do.
Teenage Fanclub - The Concept
Teenage Fanclub - Star Sign