Grand Prix by Teenage Fanclub was released 20-years ago on Creation Records; it is an album jam packed with all of the things I love about the Fanclub and listening back it still seems to have a special zip and zest to it.
From the opening chords of About You, through guitar pop gems like Sparky's Dream and Discolite, reflective moments on Mellow Doubt and Tears and the outstanding Don't Look Back - Grand Prix is the sound of a band at their very best.
Norman Blake, Gerry Love and Raymond McGinley share the songwriting duties and Grand Prix is an album that reflects magnificently on their progress as writers and musicians. In many ways Grand Prix was the start of another stage in the Fanclub journey, leading on to Songs From Northern Britain and Howdy!
The quality was always there from the debut single Everything Flows, through A Catholic Education, Bandwagonesque and Thirteen. However it is turned up a notch - the songs, the musicianship and production are sublime.
About You sets the tone for the album, warm sounding guitars, upbeat, harmonies and a sense of urgency - all wrapped up in well under 3-minutes. It is almost un-McGinley like; not only for its lyrical simplicity but also for the fact it is so upbeat and urgent; Raymond's work is usually more melancholic and reflective.
Gerry Love contributes 4 exceptional songs to Grand Prix, beginning with Sparky's Dream, the playful riff at the start suddenly explodes into life and Love is (or has been) head over heels but has discovered that love isn't always so easy.
Sparky's Dream quickly became a live favourite and the band still play it to this day. Love is full of hope and also reflection as the song builds into the flowing chorus, backed by beautiful backing vocals.
The Quietus described it thus;
It never stops ascending. Even where pop songs usually calm down, in the bridges and buffers between the major melodic attacks of verses and choruses, there is no break in the skywards gradient. In some genres this might be more common, but pure pop onslaughts as unrelenting as this one are rare and exhilarating in indie rock.
The opening trilogy concludes with the Mellow Doubt and the three songs remain staples in most Fanclub sets.
I remember going to see the band at King Tut's on the Mellow Doubt 'tour' when they played 3 gigs in Glasgow. As always, there was a degree of humour with the Fanclub, especially when Norman whistled the solo to huge applause. This happens at their shows to this day.
Mellow Doubt is a beautiful song, full of love and heartbreak and aptly named as it is by far the most 'mellow' song in the Fanclub cannon up until that point. I listened a lot to Teenage Fanclub when I went travelling back in 2007 and into 2008 and the song took on a new meaning when I was thinking of proposing to my girlfriend through the lines.
Norman's voice is soulful and true throughout the song, particularly in the line;
Gerry Love is in sensational form through Grand Prix. Don't Look Back is a song of pure beauty, shining like the sunshine that Love mentions early on and containing the gem of a line;
The pace, structure and feeling on this song is just perfect and the guitars that kick in at the end just lift the song superbly to conclusion.
Neil Jung was written by Norman for a very dear friend of his. The guitar chords are warm with a melancholic riff picked out over them. At almost 5-minutes, it is the longest song on the album, allowing the band time to create some gorgeous sounds on their guitars and for Norman to get his message across to his friend.
Norman reaches out to another friend, Creation Records boss Alan McGee, on the piano based ballad Tears. The strings are beautiful and horns come in to just give the song that little edge.
Gerry Love has written some exceptional songs in his time and Discolite is one of my very favourites. Classic Love; it starts with nice warm chords and you can almost hear Gerry chewing his gum as the beat kicks in, the guitar speeds up and the band are off- flowing superbly. There are ooh's, there are aah's as the song speeds up only to return to the warm slow chords at the start before the beat kicks back in and we are off again.
Love takes the song to a new euphoric level with the section below; something that will leave you punching the air in delight, especially if you have the good fortune to catch Teenage Fanclub playing it live.
The pace slows for Raymond's Say No and he displays his incredible talent for song structure and feeling with clever rhymes allowing the song to flow.
Gerry Love is on fire again with the stunning Going Places; a chiming guitar riff ushers things in gently and Gerry is in a reflective mood yet also finding the space and time (as always) for a lovely romantic line;
The song slows superbly for the got the notion... section before lifting to glorious conclusion.
I'll Make It Clear bursts immediately into life; Norman is hopelessly in love and it is the two of them against the world, no-one else understands.
Raymond's last song on the album is the mellow I Gotta Know before Grand Prix closes with the appropriately titled Hardcore/Ballad that explodes into life with a furious jam before dropping to a delicate acoustic guitar with Norman sounding in love but hurt and reflective.
20-years down the line Grand Prix remains an astonishing album with real depth to the songwriting, playing and production - timeless.