Friday, 23 April 2021

Endless Arcade

Teenage Fanclub's 10th studio album (12th if you count The King and Words Of Wisdom and Hope) was originally scheduled to be released in Autumn 2020. The band decided to push it back to Spring 2021 and I think that will prove to be a wise decision, the timing feels perfect.

Written and recorded pre COVID, Endless Arcade mirrors many of the emotions we've all been through over the last year; emotions have run high, there has been separation, hearts have been broken, friendships mean even more, we've needed advice, support and we've all wanted someone to tell us there is hope of brighter days. 

As I write over coffee, with sun streaming through the window to the sounds of the album playing for the umpteenth time, I'd say the Endless Arcade is fantastic on first listen, but it reveals greater depths the more you play it; the lyrics, the voices, the playing, Euros' keyboards low in the mix at times but adding so much (you'll hear and appreciate them more with every listen), Dave's bass grooves, Francis' considerate and always brilliant drumming, Raymond's exceptional guitar playing and the gorgeous harmonies.

I've had tears in my eyes at times, I've got lost in it at others, I've smiled, and now, more than ever, I'm so grateful that this special band have been in my life for so long. This may be Teenage Fanclub's most direct and personal album. 

Lets go through it song by song.

I've been losing sight of what it means to be

And all this time I've been holding on, to our memory 

Norman Blake sounds wistful on the reflective Home that opens Endless Arcade. Blake's heartache is clearly portrayed by his lyrics, the tone in his voice and the feeling is beautifully echo'd by his friend and bandmate Raymond McGinley on electric guitar. 

As Blake sings I just don't know when I'll open that door again for the final time, McGinley takes over and takes off, leading the band for four further minutes. It's a glorious melancholic jam to end a beautiful song, I can't wait to hear this live. Home is 7 minutes and 4 seconds of Teenage Fanclub at their very best.

Heartache, heartbreak, love, reflection and friendship are at the heart of Endless Arcade. Norman pours his heart out and Raymond seems to wrap his arms around him in return. 

Home video

Don't be afraid of this life, don't be afraid of this endless arcade that is life is McGinley's advice on the title track. The rhythm guitars crash and there is a keyboard/synth solo that comes in unexpectedly to lift things leading to McGinley going into a melodic flow towards the conclusion.

Warm Embrace is 2-minutes long and the melody, beat and structure reminded me instantly of Norman's work with Euros in their side project Jonny. Warm Embrace is an outpouring of frustration with Norman openly declaring exactly where he is mentally and emotionally;

I've been lost and lonely, and I've been thinking of you only

Your love can save me, from the darkness that unfolds me

A pale imitation of the life I knew, I'm all forlorn for the loss of you

Now I don't know what I'm going to do

When I first heard Everything Is Falling Apart I immediately thought the opposite. The first song released after the departure of Gerry Love sounded like a band with the bit between their teeth to me. Relax, find love, hold on to the hand of a friend is Raymond's advice as the band settle into a groove, there are delicious bass runs from Dave, an outstanding solo from McGinley, Norman really drives the rhythm guitar and Francis is in sensational form on drums. I love the outro, it sounds like it could have been extended and the band could have taken the song off somewhere else. 

Falling Apart? Coming together more like - of course I miss Gerry, but this album is real proof that there is a lot of life left in the band, indeed, it already sounds like they are planning the follow up. Let's hope they break the 5-year routine between albums that they have got into.

Video from Leith Theatre

Teenage Fanclub by Donald Milne

The Sun Won't Shine On Me begins with chiming guitars and although there are only 2 verses over two minutes 40 seconds, another excellent instrumental section and then a repeated refrain, we learn so much. It is the sound of a broken heart and it brings a tear to my eye. This is a beautiful song, those chiming guitars soundtrack tears. Raymond's guitar is perfect, Norman and Euros harmonies tug on heart strings - emotional.

I have lost any sense of belonging, I am drifting like ice on the sea

With a troubled mind, I am in decline

And the sun won't shine on me

We had a love I thought was forever, but it travelled 180 degrees

With a troubled mind, I am in decline

And the sun won't shine on me

Did I say things are emotional? Well I probably won't be the only person to get tears in my eyes after listening to Raymond's Come With Me. It's one of his very best and coming on the back of Norman's The Sun Won't Shine On Me it really hits home.

All of this time you've got in front of you, all of this time you've got in front of you is how the song starts, Raymond delivering a vocal with warmth, compassion and consideration, backed by gorgeous harmonies.

Come with me, together we'll ride to infinity

Come with me, together we'll hide from reality

This is going to melt hearts. Straight up (for me) with Raymond's greatest songs, the feeling that the band capture here is really special. There is an ache to Raymond's voice, an empathy, an understanding, care. The way he sings lines that repeatedly begin with time is just tugs on my heart strings. Come With Me is a very beautiful and emotional song.

Time to heal and be with you

Wiping the tears away, electric guitars burst in and McGinley talks of sleepless nights dreaming about life, then living inside dreams, while coaxing brilliant sounds and riffs. 

Raymond has a knack in his songwriting of finding a refrain/groove and just running with it. The outro melody and lyrics are dreamy and poetic.

What we did and we didn't do

A memory isn't always true

I just don't know what it's coming to

We've lived a dream but we never knew

I'm More Inclined was the second single lifted from the album and the band included in their live shows dating back to the summer of 2019 (if not before). It's classic Fanclub, Blake sounding optimistic in the face of heartbreak. This life is complicated is how he begins the song and despite singing of being blue, feeling isolated, the writing being on the wall and more, Norman is still more inclined to put his faith in his love. The harmonies are exquisite, Euros' keys lift the chorus and Raymond's guitar solo has a little zip to it.

I'm More Inclined video

When I heard Back In The Day for the first time I immediately said 'oh!' aloud as it engulfed me like a warm blanket. It's just gorgeous! And catchy! I find myself walking around humming the melody. Norman Blake's voice is one that I fell for 30-years ago. I'm still falling! I still marvel at it, the way he sounds so good on his own or harmonising with others, how he delivers more soul and emotion with every passing year, how it all seems so effortless.  Norman reflects on how happy he was, in comparison to where he is, over a flowing melody and lovely backing vocals; 

I'm downbeat in a daze, a sad malaise has taken hold of my heart 

I can't seem to find, the peace of mind, I knew back in the day

With each new passing day, I see that old world fading away

I just can't seem to find, the peace of mind I knew back in the day

Picture by Donald Milne

So many of Raymond's songs start with a confession. I've mentioned this in previous blogs, but listen back through his songs and check how many start with 'I .... '

The Future is lovingly melancholic. There is warm, dreamy feel to the song, beautiful harmonies and a mellow instrumental. McGinley's voice aches, sounding world weary and experienced, stating I know I waste time, don't know what I'm doing while later on he offers the advice;

slow down, take time, to know what' worth knowing 

walk out the front door and see what's new

Norman's final offering is the melodic heart on sleeve Living With You, with Blake singing of needing a minor miracle in the chorus and the heart-aching line I'll love you 'til I cease to be. Raymond delivers another excellent solo over a super tight rhythm section, the keyboards are excellent throughout. Other lyrics (maybe I'm reading too much into them) suggest the song could have been written while the band were touring in Australia. 

The world is upside down, I'm lost, don't know what to do

With you so far away from me

Endless Arcade concludes with McGinley's super mellow Silent Song, Euros' keyboards sit beautifully behind Raymond's guitar, the band gel to create something super dreamy, as close to a lullaby as Teenage Fanclub might ever get, albeit one with a slightly psychedelic tinge to the lyrics and feel. The melody is beautifully slow and Raymond's voice aches in all the right ways.

See what I want to say through my eyes

Hear what I feel inside

See the soul behind the disguise

Feel what is real

Endless Arcade is out now. I managed to order a dinked edition from Monorail who have CD's and the indies only green vinyl available to order HERE

Tim Burgess is hosting a #timstwitterlisteningparty on Thursday 6th May at 9pm.

Endless Arcade - tracklisting

1. Home (Blake)

2. Endless Arcade (McGinley)

3. Warm Embrace (Blake)

4. Everything Is Falling Apart (McGinley)

5. The Sun Won't Shine On Me (Blake)

6. Come With Me (McGinley)

7. In Our Dreams (McGinley)

8. I'm More Inclined (Blake)

9. Back in the Day (Blake)

10. The Future (McGinley)

11. Living with You (Blake)

12. Silent Song (McGinley)


Kate said...

As fantastic as it sounds, I feel like I’m going to need tissues at the ready. Heartbreaking to hear Norman pour his heart out in these lyrics.

Great review, looking forward to listening to the full album. Thanks!

everythingflows said...

Thanks Kate, yes it is emotional.