Thursday 15 February 2018

Thirteen - 25 years on

A couple of recent online postings and discussions drove me to revisit Thirteen, the 4th (3rd proper) studio album by Teenage Fanclub.

I have very clear memories relating to Thirteen. It was released in 1993, 25-years ago! One very clear memory relates to their hometown show at the Barrowland Ballroom to promote the album. Support was from The Posies and The Juliana Hatfield 3. It was my first time gracing the hallowed ballroom, I bought a super cool TFC long sleeve retro Scotland football style top with 13 on the back and a couple of posters.

And the second vivid memory relates to the song Norman 3. For those of your unfamiliar with the song, it ends with the mantra; 

Yeah, I'm in love with you
I'm in love with you
And I know that it's you

I played this over and over....even more times than the chorus is repeated! And I played it with one girl in particular in mind. I am from Carluke and as a 17-year old I started working in Glasgow for a financial company. On the train home I had this album on regularly and there was a girl who always caught my eye. She lived in Lanark and attended Jordanhill. She was just a year younger than me and we eventually started talking but it never came to anything. But this song always reminds me those train journeys between Carluke and Glasgow and a girl who I tried to make eye contact with through our reflections in the windows.

Yeah Thirteen was quite an album for me, soundtracking train journeys, fantasies and my first trip to the hallowed Glasgow Barrowland Ballroom. I was only 15 when Bandwagonesque came out, so Thirteen was perfect timing.

Back then I was oblivious to facts I am aware of now - the troubles the band had with recording and production and the fact that to this day they still say they are not happy with it.

That didn't matter to me in 1993 and it really doesn't concern me too much now in 2018. I guess I still view the album as a 17-year old. A song like Radio will always make me want to play air guitar and sing a-long, or rush to the front to jump and pogo at a live show, McGinley's Tears Are Cool will still make me swoon (god knows what reaction it caused for the girl he wrote it for) and like many of the Teenage Fanclub Fanclub I think Gene Clark is pretty special.

Hang On is an excellent opening song, building gloriously before Gerry Love comes in with his stunning opening lines that conclude with;

Of all the stars I've ever seen
You're the sun

The band hit a groove and jam on an extended outro. Norman's first offering is The Cabbage, a reflection on the end of a relationship;

We were together, but now we're not
Asked you for nothing, that's what I got

The chorus has Blake reflecting on the advice his friends are offering. He doesn't sound convinced. The song is relatively simple, yet Blake's voice says it all, he does sound hurt from the experience. I'm not sure where the song title came from!

And then we arrive at the aforementioned Radio, a song that just leaps into life and doesn't let up. Choosing a top 10 of my favourite Teenage Fanclub songs would be pretty hard for me but I think this would be in there. It is just a pure rush of guitar pop perfection.

And then we arrive at Norman 3. I think he might have been struggling with song titles! If The Cabbage is the sound of someone hurt and blue, then Norman 3 is the sound of someone alive to the possibilities of love and basking in its glow.

If you're the future, then I'm with you
Looking forward, to everything that we do

The song builds until Norman sings are you read for what I'm going to say? before launching head over heels into the chorus/mantra/declaration;

Yeah I'm in love with you, I'm in love with you
And I know that it's you

I fell for this song as hard as Norman did for the girl he wrote it for. As I have written above, this just brings back so many sunny memories. The chorus is just so uplifting and pure. It a is heart on the sleeve, cards on the table declaration of love. Norman is all in.

After the double blast of Radio and Norman 3 we go into a run of songs that are the sound of Teenage Fanclub maturing as songwriters and as a band. The melodies are still there (always were, always will be) but the band play with song structures - who needs a chorus at times? How long can an intro be?

Song to the Cynic is Gerry Love displaying defiance, talking of how his honesty will protect him and how cynics/ex-lovers can't leave a mark on him. It sounds very different to anything TFC had released previously.

Raymond McGinley's is introduced to Thirteen as a songwriter for the first time. 120-minutes has Raymond listing a number of thing he doesn't want before declaring;

I just wanna see your face again, be my friend

It sounds like all of the band might have loved and lost in the lead up to Thirteen. McGinley and the band rated the song so highly that they included it on their Teenage Fanclub Have Lost It in acoustic form a few years later.

McGinley follows this up with Escher and the band combine with glorious harmonies to push the chorus, Raymond lets Norman take lead vocals and for me that was the right decision with Norman's voice more suited to the song. Raymond lets rip on the guitar, sounding glorious.

Blake is back on writing and singing duties with Commercial Alternative, an out and out love song with the band zipping through it and McGinley is on top form (when is he not?!) on lead guitar.

Gerry Love displays real progression in his songwriting across Thirteen and Fear of Flying is a real favourite of mine. It has that beautiful laid back, stoned, flow and melody that Love can seemingly create with ease. Stretching to almost 5 and a half minutes, Love eases in gently and allows the band plenty of time to jam and groove.

Add a new vibration
To the situation

Then we have Tears Are Cool, a Raymond McGinley masterpiece. McGinley's voice is soulful and fragile as he bares his heart over his electric guitar, before the drums come in  for the final chorus. It is a stunner.

I don't say my prayers but I pray for you
I might say who cares but I know you do
You're the one who knows that my lies aren't true
When I see you cry I think tears are cool

Ret Live Dead sounds like Norman is giving advice to someone (himself?) in a little over 2-minutes. Strings are introduced to beautifully back Norman coo-ing the chorus.

Don't know what to do
Say you need her
But she don't need you

Get Funky is the band letting rip and jamming, the spoken word intro by Blake at the start OK we're rolling, howdy disco citizens leads to funky bass combining with fast and loud guitars.

The epic Gene Clark closes the album in style, over 6 and a half minutes of the Fanclub at their very best, easing their way gently into a rhythm, before piercing and euphoric lead guitar kicks in. It is easy to get lost in the music as the band stretch out and jam for over 3 and a half minutes before Gerry Love comes in with his soulful laid back vocals.

All the seeds you sow
Are just looking for a place to grow

The no matter what you say/do closing refrain is quite hypnotic with gorgeous backing vocals. It is a glorious song and the fact that it fades out makes me wonder if there is a longer version sitting in the vaults somewhere.

It is a song revered by Fanclub fans and I think I have heard the same people shouting for it at every Fanclub show I have been to. I was fortunate to catch the band play it live in Oran Mor when they had a weekend of rarities. Check the video below.

So there you go, Thirteen, 25-years old and packed full of gems with stand-outs/faves for me being; Hang On, Radio, Norman 3, Fear of Flying, Tears Are Cool and Gene Clark.

Listening back, I was struck by the change from Bandwagonesque - Thirteen and subsequently on to Grand Prix. Thirteen is the sound of a band developing, maturing and yet still having fun. Jamming in a very different way to A Catholic Education or on The King, singing and playing in a very different way. There is more subtlety, more control

If you are listening for the first time - enjoy. If you are revisiting, then I hope you get as much out of the experience as I did. You can stream on Spotify HERE

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